It's the dreaded "I" word.
No gymnast wants to get injured, obviously.
But in gymnastics it's not so much about the actual injury. We know our gymnasts are tough and that their bodies are incredibly resilient.
Rather, it's about the mental recovery.
The road to recovery can be a tough one mentally because there are so many factors involved.
For example, the time of season plays an important factor...and let's face, there's no real good timing for an injury.
How long she'll be out of gymnastics and/or how long her recovery will be can also play an emotional factor.
If she got injured doing a skill, fear of re-injury or of the skill can also become a factor.
So what can you do if your gymnast is injured and you can tell it's really affecting her mindset?
Here are 5 tips to help your gymnast come back mentally from an injury:
1. Don't downplay the injury.
As parents you want to make your gymnast feel better so you might say things like "Oh, it's not that bad" or "You'll get through this."
But your gymnast really needs you to acknowledge how crummy she's feeling. You don't need to tell her how serious of an injury it is or how long this might set her back. But you don't have to go all "sunshine and rainbows" on her either.
Hear her worries, listen to her negative thoughts, and then give her a big hug.
Her situation sucks, for lack of a better word.
And she needs to grieve it.
So it's important that you listen to her concerns and fears (without giving advice).
Her world is turned upside down and she needs a strong support system.
Be the warm hug and the listening ear. That's what she needs.
2. Don't ask your gymnast if she wants to quit.
Some injuries are really bad and take a long time for recovery. And it's hard to watch your gymnast go through weeks or months of physical therapy. Even harder is seeing your gymnast in the gym not being able to do what all the other gymnasts are doing.
But trust me when I say...your gymnast doesn't want to quit.
She just wants to be back to where she was so she can move forward with the rest of her team.
Is recovery a hard and often long process?
But have gymnasts done it before?
One of the biggest things that stood out to me when learning more about Simone Biles' life was the shoulder injury she sustained that took her out of competition for 6 months.
In her words in her book Courage To Soar <amazon link> Simone says: "For six months after that, all I did was go to therapy three times a week and do light conditioning that didn't involve the shoulder. I still went to the gym every day, but I didn't touch the uneven bars."
We obviously know that her shoulder injury didn't knock her out of competition forever. It became a blip in her gymnastics journey. And so will this injury be for your gymnast.
If your gymnast really wants to quit then she'll tell you. But as much as you think your gymnast is suffering, let her decide when she's done with this sport (and then of course make sure you read this article: What To Do When Your Gymnast Wants To Quit)
3. Get her hooked up with a mental coach for support.
When a gymnast gets injured it can be a very lonely road.
She can't do what her teammates do in practice. She's often alone on the side doing her own exercises.
Coaches often ignore an injured gymnast. Not in a bad way. But in that they are training the gymnasts who are doing gymnastics and aren't as focused on the injured ones.
So having an injury brings up feelings of loneliness that can be hard for any child to handle.
One of the best things you can do to help support your gymnast is get her connected with a mental coach so she can have someone to chat things out with. This can help her feel less lonely as well as gain some tools for how to recover mentally form her injury.
4. Leave the advice up to the experts.
As parents we all want to help our children through their obstacles. But less is more in the case of an injury.
Your job is to get her connected with the right doctor, physical therapist, and mental coach.
Leave the rest to the experts.
There should be no pushing her to do her exercises. A gentle reminder here and there is ok. But your gymnast, especially at the beginning of an injury, needs some time to process what's happened. And that might mean that she isn't as into the physical therapy process as she could be.
In contrast, your gymnast might be super motivated at first but then lose hope when she sees how long the recovery process is taking. Again, this is a good time to reach out to a mental coach to get her some tools.
If you constantly push your gymnast to go through the recovery process, she may begin to resent you and this can add more stress to her already stressful situation.
And while your advice might really be helpful, especially if you were an athlete who had injuries yourself, it tends to fall on deaf ears. Your gymnast wants a parent to console her, not to tell her what to do.
5. Let her take her time re-learning skills. Skip the timelines.
When her physical is finally healed, you might think she should be able to go back into the gym and do her skills like before.
But the mental aspect of injury recovery is a huge one that can hold your gymnast back.
There might be fear about doing a skill that caused an injury. Or fear about doing any skills that might cause her to use the healed limb in a way that might put extra pressure on it.
If there are meets coming up and your gymnast needs to get ready for these meets, ignore the meets. You cannot put a timeline on your gymnast's mental recovery. You don't want her having extra pressure to get skills back in time because that can lead to mental blocks.
One of the best things your gymnast can do during this time is work on her imagery. In fact, imagery is a tool your gymnast should be using from the time she gets injured until well after recovery. But especially when she's trying to do skills she's done in the past and is now struggling on.
As her parent, you don't have to say things like "Your ankle is better now. I know you can do this." Even though your intentions are good, it can cause stress to your gymnast because she might not feel like she can do her skills yet.
Also, please listen to your gymnast if she says she has pain. One of the biggest disconnects is when a doctor tells your gymnast she is all healed but she still feels pain. Your gymnast is in charge of her body and if she is feeling pain, it doesn't matter that her injury is supposedly healed. She's feeling pain.
When I was a gymnast I rolled my ankle while tumbling and ultimately sprained it. After two weeks the doctor told my mom that my ankle was fine. But it hurt to walk on and I was afraid to tumble again. Everyone around me told me my ankle was fine and because I was hearing it around me, I started to doubt my own pain. That is until I re-injured my ankle a week later while tumbling. Always listen to your gymnast! She is the one feeling the pain!
Working through an injury is an incredibly difficult situation for your gymnast to manage mentally. As her parent, your goal is to help get her the tools she needs to get through this recovery process. That means hooking her up with the right professionals and letting her navigate through this recovery process in her own way. There is no right or wrong way to come back from an injury. But in the end, if your gymnast is dedicated to the sport of gymnastics and focused on healing, she'll thrive again 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