With some gymnasts still needing to qualify for States or Provincials, there can be some pretty big pressure in the gym right now. Even if your gymnast has already qualified, there's the pressure of having to get better and compete well when her big meet finally arrives. And that pressure only continues as some gymnasts qualify for even bigger meets.
While a State (or Regional or National or Provincial) meet is a pretty big deal to many gyms, it's important that our gymnasts are shielded from feeling the extra pressure of having to perform their best at this one single meet.
When your gymnast puts extra pressure on herself or feels the pressure from her coach or parents, her brain will often respond in a negative way. These might be things like her mental blocks coming back, the shutting down of skills that were once performed confidently, making uncharacteristic mistakes at meets or in the gym, or just underperforming. When your gymnast's brain is under pressure, these are all common consequences.
First of all, let's just say that despite how it may feel a big meet is, at its core, just another meet that your gymnast is competing in.
But just as the Olympics feels like a very different competition than other meets because of the climate surrounding it, so too can her State or Provincial meet feel like something really big.
It's important, then, to make sure your gymnast knows how to handle this big pressure or, at the very least, is feeling no unnecessary pressure from you as her parent.
Here are 5 things you can do to help your gymnast manage pressure before a big meet:
1. Don't put any extra pressure on her yourself.
This one is quite obvious but sometimes we, as parents, get caught up in the culture of it all and want our gymnast to do well at these big meets. So we might start turning up the heat unknowingly in the weeks leading up to her big meet.
We might be kicking in with reminders of what her coaches are telling her.
We might be encouraging her to do her mental training.
Or we might be feeling anxious ourselves which can contribute to your gymnast feeling extra anxious too.
So it's important to do a gut check on yourself to see what your feelings are towards this big meet. And then find ways to minimize that stress for yourself so you aren't projecting it onto your gymnast.
Also, unknowingly, you can add pressure without realizing it by saying things like: "I know you're going to do well" or "You're going to do great like you always do." While those things might sound positive, they actually add more pressure because now your gymnast may wonder what happens if she doesn't do as well as she has done in the past!
So better phrases might be "I'm excited to watch you at States" or "I'm looking forward to our weekend away at Provincials." Remember, your goal is not to add extra pressure or expectations on your gymnast.
2. Help your gymnast manage other stressors in her life.
Is school really stressful for your gymnast right now? Does she have very little down time? Is she barely sleeping? Does she have a full load of AP or accelerated classes at school? Is she in other extra curricular activities?
If any of these are the case, find ways to help your gymnast manage her school work and extracurriculars better.
Could she benefit from a day off from school or the gym to recharge every once in a while? If so, help her get this day.
Is her workload really too much for her at school? If so, reach out to her guidance counselor, get her a tutor, or ask her teachers if there's any way to ease up on the homework, tests, or assignments in the next few weeks.
Always remember that the stress she is feeling outside of the gym gets carried with her. So it's important to evaluate all aspects of her life, not just gymnastics.
In addition, when gymnasts have to miss school to travel to meets it can add stress on them. They have to make up work or tests and that can feel very overwhelming when they're already low on time.
3. Help her set realistic expectations for her State meet.
Often gymnasts will set these big goals for their State and Provincial meets that might not be within their reach just yet. It's more realistic for a gymnast to say "I'll do my best" than "I'm going to win States."
It's not that your gymnast can't and shouldn't have big goals. But if she's been barely making it onto the podium, then her goals should be more realistic when she gets to that big meet than wanting to win the entire competition.
On the flip side, it's ok to encourage your gymnast to dream a little if her expectations are really low. If she's imagining herself coming in last place or is feeling like she doesn't have the capability to place in the top ten when you know she's capable of that, then remind her that setting goals just outside her comfort zone is ok too.
If your gymnast's goals are unrealistic, this can put extra pressure on her brain to perform well or actually de-motivate her brain in the case of setting really low goals.
4. Remind her that this is just one meet.
Many gymnasts fall into the trap of believing that this is the most important meet of their lives. Help remind her that this is just one more meet that she's competing in. And that while it may feel different because the stakes might be higher, it's no different than going to any other meet.
As is the case with every meet, it's one opportunity for your gymnast to show off what she's been working hard on in the gym. And sometimes she's successful in putting it all together when it counts, and other times she might not be so successful.
Remind her that she spends countless hours in the gym for only a few minutes of actual competition each season. So it's important to focus on the effort she's put into her journey in practice and not to get pulled into thinking that if she doesn't perform well at that one meet, she isn't a good gymnast.
You might ask her if she thinks her worth as a gymnast comes from only this big meet. If she says no, remind her that she's spent hours and hours in the gym putting in the hard work and determination. Those are things that she should focus on when she thinks about her worth as a gymnast. If your gymnast does believe her worth comes from this one big meet, she might need some help next season understanding her priorities and adopting a growth mindset.
5. Make it clear that no matter what happens at her big meet, you'll love her still the same.
Some gymnasts feel that their performance is a reflection of how much love they deserve or will receive. If they underperform they might feel like they are loved less.
And while it sounds silly, it's incredibly common that gymnasts wrap their self-worth up into how successful they are as gymnasts. So when they don't perform well, it's more than just mourning a bad performance. It's mourning a sense of love that they no longer feel they deserve.
Remember the famous quote from Simone Biles after the Tokyo Games when the United States won silver? "I hope America still loves us!"
Simone was caught up so much in how good she would perform that when she couldn't perform at the Games at all, she didn't feel worthy of being loved as a person, let alone as a gymnast. Let's not make our own gymnasts feel that same way.
So be sure to emphasize to your gymnast that you love her for being HER and not for being a gymnast. And that win or lose, you will ALWAYS love her as much as is humanly possible.
In sum, while a state meet might feel really big to your gymnast, it's important that she doesn't feel extra pressure going into this meet. Gyms will naturally build up these meets and make them feel really important which can make your gymnast feel more nervous about competing. Make sure you are not putting any extra pressure on your gymnast yourself. Help your gymnast manage other stressors that might be going on in her life outside of gym. Also help your gymnast set realistic expectations for her meet so she isn't carrying the weight of a really big goal or demotivated by a really small one. Always remind your gymnast that this meet only measures her performance on one day of her career but that she has hours and hours in the gym to show for her hard work. Finally, let your gymnast know that win or lose you will ALWAYS love her for who she is as a person, not for what she can do in 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