One thing is for sure in gymnastics and that's that it can be stressful.
In fact, many aspects of gymnastics can elicit strong feelings of stress - from competing, to learning new skills, to managing your own expectations or those of your coach, to dealing with mental blocks or poor performance.
If you don't learn how to cope with these stressors, you can end up constantly fighting an uphill battle in gymnastics. And unfortunately, that can make gymnastics feel less fun.
So it's really important to having coping skills in place.
Gymnasts who never learn to cope don't have the ability to recover as fast from a stressful situation.
In fact, if you lack coping skills, your performance will decline as a gymnast, and you can even become ill physically.
First of all, there are two ways a gymnast can cope with stress:
1. Problem-Focused Coping: this is when you focus on ways to manage the problem that is causing the stress. This could include things like creating a pre-meet routine, setting goals, working on your time management, or doing anything else that can help you solve the problem.
2. Emotion-Focused Coping: this is when you focus on ways to control your emotional response to the stress such as by practicing meditation, yoga, and breathing.
Half the battle of learning how to cope with stress is figuring out what strategies work for you.
Therefore, you want to first become aware of what you are doing and whether it IS or is NOT working for you.
Think of a stressful situation you've experienced in gymnastics.
How did you cope with it?
Did that coping strategy work for you?
What could you have done better?
Once you narrow down the things you need in order to effectively manage your stressors, then you can work on doing those things more.
In the Meantime, Here are 8 Quick Tips To Help You Cope With Stress In Gymnastics
1. Smile When You Feel Stress Coming On
Smiling is a simple and rather effective tool for managing any stress or tension you feel in gymnastics. When you smile, you immediately release endorphins in your brain which takes the edge off the stressful feelings you are experiencing.
While this might sound like it's too good to be true, smiling (and laughter) is definitely an underrated technique for lightening your stress. And it really does work!
2. Find Something You Enjoy In The Situation
While this is easier said than done you CAN find certain aspects of your situation that you enjoy and choose to focus on those.
If you hate conditioning, try to find something that you can focus on that feels good to you in that moment. Maybe it's the fact that you're with your teammates or that you learned a new skill that practice.
If you fall on beam at a meet, try to remember how great it is that you even GET to compete when for so long meets were cancelled!
3. Set Up Stressful Situations In Practice
Coping with stress effectively is a learning process. The best way to learn how to do this is to set up similar situations in practice, where it's a controlled environment, and then practice coping with the stress.
This could be mock or in-house meets that your coaches set up. It could be having all your teammates sit around and watch you do your routines. It could be having a 1-touch warmup in practice and then having to do your full routine after that.
You want to emulate any situation that you could encounter in gymnastics that is potentially stressful so that you get experience dealing with the stress of it all.
4. Slow Down and Take Your Time
When you're feeling stressed or frustrated, it's easy to speed up your skills or routines.
Think about when you go through your floor routine at a meet and you're really nervous. Your tendency is to blow through the routine so you can be done with it. But obviously being off the music and rushing through skills is not going to get you a good score.
Instead take a deep breath and slow it down. Breathing will really help you to stay present and to take your time so that you can actually enjoy what you are doing.
5. Stay Focused On The Present
When you focus on what CAN happen in the future or what HAS happened in the past, you tend to get more stressed and anxious.
Rather, keep your thoughts in the present moment and focus on W.I.N. - what's important now.
Always ask yourself, 'what's important now?'
That will help to keep your stress level down because when you are in the present moment there is not time to think about what could go wrong. You are just doing what's important right then and there.
6. Come Prepared With A Good Game Plan
Having to make a lot of decisions can increase anxiety, especially before or during a meet.
If you show up to a meet with a game plan in place such as by having a pre-meet routine, then it takes the guess work out of it all.
This will help cut down on any stress that you're feeling as well as set you up for more success because you already know what you should be doing!
So make sure you make those important decisions ahead of time to prevent decision fatigue. Sure, you can still change a decision during that moment, but if you already have a plan in place it will make it much easier to focus on what's important in that moment.
7. Slow Down or Speed Up Your Breathing
If you're feeling nervous or overly stressed, then slowing down your breathing and focusing on taking in deep, belly breaths will help you cope better.
On the other hand, if you feel sluggish or low in energy, then taking shorter, more shallow breaths will help to energize you and get your heart rate up.
8. Listen to Energizing or Calming Music
Depending on how you cope, you might feel the need to either calm down your internal energy or rev it up. If you feel like your nerves are getting the best of you then you can listen to calming music to try to settle your nerves down.
If you feel like you aren't motivated or that your energy level is too low, then you can listen to energizing music to raise your energy level.
What you do will depend on your own personal energy and motivation. And it might take you trying different strategies to figure out which one works best for you.
Stress can be overwhelming in gymnastics if you don't know how to handle it. If you don't cope with stress effectively it can hurt your gymnastics performance, can lower your confidence, and can lower your joy for gymnastics.
There are a few different strategies for learning how to cope with stress in gymnastics, including smiling, focusing on something positive in your situation, and setting up stressful situations ahead of time so you can practice coping with stress when the situation doesn't count.
You should also practice slowing down and taking your time in a stressful moment, staying focused on the present, coming prepared with a game plan ahead of time so you have less decision to make, playing with different breathing speeds depending on what you need, and then learning how to change your energy level if what you're feeling isn't effective for you.
- Free Resources: Get printables to help you work on your mental skills in gymnastics
- Free Growth Mindset Mini Course for Gymnasts: Learn why a growth mindset is important in gymnastics and tips to help you become a better gymnast
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics