It's common for the gymnasts I work with to identify strongly with being a gymnast. When I say strongly I mean...eat, sleep, breathe, and dream gymnastics.
While it's great for gymnasts to love their sport, it's important that their identity isn't solely wrapped up in gymnastics.
Although gymnasts are able to do gymnastics for longer and longer these days (as proven by 33-year old U.S. gymnast Chellsie Memmel this past year), chances are strong that there will come a time in their lives when gymnastics is no longer something they do.
This might be by choice, because of injury, life circumstances, or necessity. Thus, your competitive gymnasts will most likely move on from the sport of gymnastics at some point in their lives, or at the very least identify less strongly with it as time goes on.
(Please note - I am not saying by any means that your gymnast cannot continue to do gymnastics for as long as she wants to. She can and should!)
The ability and flexibility to transition away from gymnastics, then, is super important to help fend off the negative mentality that can come with such a hard transition.
If a gymnast ONLY identifies as being a gymnast, this will make her future transition that much harder for her. But if you can help her see herself as so much more than a gymnast at this stage in her journey, that transition (although still painful) will be easier.
So what can you do as her parent to help her see herself as more than just a gymnast?
Here are some tips:
1. Get your gymnast involved in other activities now
I know most gymnastics families don't have time to participate in other activities with such a hectic gym and school schedule. But these activities don't have to be organized activities. It could be as simple as having a baking day in your house where everyone bakes their favorite recipe. Or Sundays when you all do something together as a family, whether it's going to religious service or a family activity.
If she has the time to do other organized activities, then great! Sign her up. But if not, it's about doing other things besides gymnastics.
2. Encourage her to hang out with non-gymnastics friends
This is also a hard one since most gymnasts are closest to the teammates that they spend hours in the gym with. But as her parent, you can encourage her to hang out with her school friends from time to time. Or you can encourage extended family gatherings so she can spend time with her cousins.
Any opportunity she can get to spend time with children who are NOT gymnasts can give your gymnast more perspective and broaden her associations.
3. Praise her for who she is as a person and not what she can do as a gymnast
When you praise your gymnast for her gymnastics skills, she learns to associate her sense of self-worth with being good at gymnastics. This can be detrimental when she stops gymnastics in the future, because her entire self-worth will be wrapped up in being a gymnast.
Instead, praise her for her effort, her kindness, her discipline. Find the qualities that make her who she is and praise those. Again, you want to praise her for her innate qualities as a person and not her skills as a gymnast.
4. Encourage her to leave gymnastics at the gym
Many gymnasts bring gymnastics into every aspect of their lives, as I said earlier. But it's important that your gymnast learns how to leave gymnastics at the gym and not bring it home with her.
Now I know you're shaking your finger at me and saying "That's impossible! My gymnast is ALWAYS doing gymnastics, even at home." And I know that's true. But it's the mental aspect that she has to learn to leave in the gym.
If she had a bad practice or is struggling on a skill, she must learn how to leave those negative feelings in the gym. If she takes her frustrations and feelings with her home, she's not only going to make herself miserable, but the entire household too! One way to encourage this is to have her keep a journal. When she gets home from gym, or in the car on the way home, have her write down her feelings about practice. Then once that journal is closed, she doesn't speak about it again.
Just to clarify, if she has an issue and wants to discuss it with you, I'm not saying to shut her down. I know you savor any chance your gymnast will give you to discuss her gymnastics experience. However, if she is in the habit of complaining about practice or her coaches, she needs to learn how to leave her thoughts on the paper of her journal and let them go.
5. Write her a list of 5 things you appreciate about her (none of which are gymnastics)
It's great for gymnasts to know they are valued for being more than gymnasts. As her parent, you can write down 5 qualities you adore or admire about your gymnast and give it to her. In fact, you can ask her siblings and other family members to do the same.
Not only is this a confidence boost for her, but it helps her see that she has a lot to offer the world outside of gymnastics. Your goal is to keep reminding her that you love her for who she is as a person and not just because she's a gymnast.
The transition away from gymnastics can be challenging for many gymnasts, but especially for those who identify so strongly with being gymnasts. By thinking about this now and getting ahead of it, you can help your gymnast transition more easily in her future.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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