Off-season is generally a fun time for gymnasts. They get to train new skills, upgrade some of their old skills, and start learning new routines for next season.
But for some gymnasts, namely those who are still working on getting skills they don't have, the end of off-season can be an incredibly stressful time of year.
So what do you do if you have a gymnast who is trying to move up to the next level but either lost a skill she needs or can't seem to learn a new skill in time?
Parents, here are some tips for you:
1. Don't give your gymnast tips for how to get her skills!
As parents, we all want to help our children. So when you see your gymnast struggling, the first thing you might do is give your gymnast tips.
You see her struggling on a skill she once could do and you might say: "You've done this before. You can do it again." Or you might try to rationalize with her: "It's just like before. Just swing your arms and go for it." Or you might throw out bribes in the hopes of motivating her: "Do you skill and I'll get you a new phone." If those don't work you might even turn to threats: "Daddy and I aren't going to pay for this anymore if you don't try harder and do your skills."
Yup, all gymnastics parents of struggling gymnasts have been there at one point or another. And there's no shame in it. Your intentions are good and that's the important thing. But the truth is that none of these words will help your gymnast because her problem is much deeper than "just try."
Instead, back off. Don't offer any advice. Leave the coaching to her coaches. Mums the word. As much as you want to offer "advice" just don't do it. Trust me on this one.
2. Encourage your gymnast to take it day by day instead of focusing on the future.
When a deadline to have a skill is fast approaching, your gymnast will start to feel the pressure. And that pressure will start to shut her down if she doesn't have the tools to manage it.
One of the best ways to avoid this feeling is to focus on one day at a time. Your gymnast's greatest power is the present moment. What can she do RIGHT NOW that can help her get closer to her skill? That is the magic question.
When her brain is focused on the future, it gets stressed out since your gymnast has no control over what happens in the future. That stress and anxiety about what will happen next season adds an extra layer of pressure that her brain doesn't like.
But when she's focused on each day, one at a time, it gives her brain a sense of security. Your gymnast CAN control what she focuses on in each moment. And that is truly a gift. So be sure to encourage your gymnast to focus on each day and what she CAN do in the present moment.
3. Don't be afraid of having your gymnast repeat a level.
Most parents get stuck in this fear cycle of not wanting their gymnasts to repeat a level because they feel it will crush their gymnast and her self-esteem.
Will your gymnast be crushed if she has to repeat a level? Probably. Most gymnasts who are trying to move up to the next level are devastated when they hear the news that they have to repeat a level. This is especially true if they see their friends moving up without them.
But at the end of the day these are valuable learning lessons for your gymnast. If she's stuck on a skill because of a mental block, this is an indication that she has mental work to do to resolve the underlying confidence/negative thoughts that are keeping her stuck.
If your gymnast isn't learning a skill fast enough or has fear on a skill, this is also a valuable lesson that everyone's journey unfolds at a different pace. This especially serves as a tool for learning how to stop the comparison game, which is strong in many gymnasts who don't move up with their teammates.
Disappointment is NOT a bad thing. For many gymnasts it's the fuel that keeps them pushing harder. For others, while it might de-motivate them or decrease their confidence, it's still a valuable lesson to be learned. We all get disappointed in life and learning how to deal with those feelings now in a healthy way is an important skill to have. What better way to practice than to have to navigate this feeling as a gymnast.
4. Do speak up for your gymnast if you feel she isn't getting the attention or respect she deserves.
It's a tricky situation but it's important that you are advocating for your gymnast, especially if she's terrible at advocating for herself. Many coaches are bogged down with getting all their gymnasts ready for next season which means they often have less time to spend helping the gymnasts who are struggling to keep up.
But this doesn't mean your gymnast deserves less attention or respect. If you notice your gymnast is over in the corner alone all the time with little to no coaching, it is within your rights to speak up.
Often a situation like this requires you to get private lessons for your gymnast in order to get her the attention she needs to learn her skills. But during regular practice, your gymnast should still be coached. Maybe her coach can't give her tons of spots, but he/she should be giving her guidance and tips.
Remember, you pay for your gymnast to be on her team. She deserves at least the same amount of attention as everyone else, struggles or no struggles. There is no excuse for your gymnast being ignored in practice.
5. Keep things in perspective.
Your gymnast is likely starting to stress out about the upcoming season if she doesn't have her skills. She's feeling pressure to get these skills in time for next season which, in turn, is making it harder for her to get these skills. Soon she might even be up against a countdown that's broadcasted in the gym detailing the exact amount of days until competition season begins (some gyms do this!).
It's also likely that you'll notice that some of her other skills on other events are suffering too. It's a trickle effect and it's common in situations like these. Her confidence is waining and her trust in herself starts to plummet. Her brain is in fight-flight-or-freeze mode under the pressure and it's now doing what it can to survive (which is to avoid skills).
The goal is not to stress out about this loss of skills. The goal is also not to stress out about the timeline. If you put things into perspective, this is just a blip in your gymnast's gymnastics journey. Sure, it feels pretty significant right now. But in the grand scheme of things, she still has time to learn these skills and she has years to grow into the gymnast she wants to be.
I always remind my Stick It Girl Academy gymnasts that they are each on their own unique journey. Some of them learn skills faster than others. Some of them get injuries that sideline them often. Others lose skills and go through months of mental blocks while their teammates are pushing ahead and learning new skills.
The path for your gymnast to get to her goals isn't set in stone. It also isn't the same as anyone else's. Your gymnast's journey is her own and she has to own that. She has to remember to keep her big goals in mind and to take each day as it comes. If she repeats a level or takes time off because of injury, that is part of her unique journey and that's ok! There's no one-size-fits-all in gymnastics.
Hang in there parents! Parenting a gymnast is a tough job. And parenting a gymnast who is struggling to get skills is an even tougher task. The goal is to be a good support system for your gymnast and not to put any extra pressure on her by giving her advice or tips. Encourage her to take each day as it comes instead of stressing about the future. And advocate for your gymnast if you feel she isn't advocating for herself and/or isn't getting the fair attention you're paying for. If at the end of the day your gymnast has to repeat a level because of skill loss, don't stress. It's all part of her journey and is teaching her valuable life lessons along the way. Keep things in perspective and remember - it's only gymnastics!
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Resources: Get gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- 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