One of the hardest things as a parent of a gymnast is watching your gymnast suffer through a tough season in gymnastics and feel totally helpless.
It might be that your gymnast has a mental block on a skill and it's been on and off for months, causing her confidence to dip.
Or maybe your gymnast is cracking under the pressure every time she competes and can't seem to score the way she knows she can.
Maybe your gymnast got injured or sick and is having a tough time keeping her mindset positive as she goes through the recovery process.
Or perhaps your gymnast had a mean coach who verbally abused her and now she switched gyms but is still struggling with her self-esteem.
Whatever season of hard your gymnast is going through right now, it can be devastating as her parent not knowing what to do to help her.
In this article I'm going to give you some tips for what you can do and how you can approach this season of hard from a more positive perspective.
But before I give you tips, I want you to remember that any season of hard is always temporary. While it might feel never-ending when you and your gymnast are in the moment of hard, just remember that it WILL end eventually. Always keep that perspective in mind!
Here are some tips to help you in helping your gymnast through this tough season:
1. You don't have to remove this obstacle for her
One of the biggest "mistakes" I see parents make is thinking they have to remove any obstacles in their gymnast's way. You might have heard the phrase "lawnmower" parent. A "lawnmower" parent is a parent who tries to get rid of any obstacle in his/her child's life.
In gymnastics it's impossible for you to remove all obstacles from your gymnast's experience. In fact, struggle in gymnastics is what makes your child stronger. Think of all the conditioning she does. Towards the end of her conditioning set, things are HARD. She might want to quit, she'll want a break, she'll want it to be over. But those are the moments when her muscles grow and become stronger. And those are the moments that she needs to go through in order to change.
The same holds true for her gymnastics experience. It's in the moments of hard that she becomes stronger. So as her parent, your job isn't to remove those obstacles for her. She needs them! Your job is to help her through them in the most successful way possible.
2. Be a listening and empathetic ear
Most of the time your gymnast doesn't want you to solve her problem for her. She wants you to listen (without giving advice or making judgment). This is one of the hardest things to do as a parent but it's one of the most important.
Your gymnast needs to trust that you will really hear her concerns. She wants to be heard and noticed. Again, she doesn't want you to fix things for her. She needs you as a sound board to bounce her thoughts against.
She also needs to know you understand her struggles. This is where empathy comes in. When you immediately jump to solving the problem you lose that moment of connecting with empathy. Instead, acknowledge that what she's going through is really hard and that you feel for her. And then open up your ears and really listen!
3. Model a growth mindset
Your gymnast learns a lot about life from you, her parent. When you go through challenges, how do you respond? The way you choose to model this for your gymnast is really important. If you're approaching your own obstacles with a growth mindset, then your gymnast will pick up on those cues. If, on the other hand, you're using obstacles as a chance to complain and get upset, your gymnast will learn to respond that way to her own obstacles.
To model a growth mindset talk out loud when you solve your own problems. Spilled the milk in the kitchen? Out loud say things like "Oops. I didn't mean to spill that milk. But I can fix this. Let me grab some paper towels and clean up. Actually, this is a great chance for me to wipe down the kitchen table since I've been wanting to do that anyway."
When you talk through different thought patterns out loud that model a growth mindset, you give your gymnast a chance to learn those thought patterns too. On the other hand, when you get mad at yourself or say things like "I'm so stupid" or "I always burn dinner" in front of your child, she will take away those fixed mindset thoughts in her own life.
4. Encourage your gymnast to get the support she needs
Does your gymnast need more help from her coach? Does she need extra help from her teacher? Does she need to have a conversation with her gym bestie? What sort of support might she need to get through this obstacle?
Encourage your gymnast to brainstorm some of the things that might help her through her obstacle and then help her get that help, either by encouraging her to communicate her needs to her coaches or walking along side her as she reaches out for help. As her parent, you might have to reach out to a mental performance coach, like myself, and schedule a session if that's what your gymnast needs.
In any event, encourage your gymnast to figure out what support she needs and then to ask for it. It's important that she knows she has a team of people ready and able to help her through her obstacle.
When your gymnast is going through a tough season, she might just need some more one-on-one time from you, her parent. Maybe she needs more of your attention in that season. She might need your help with her homework, even if she's always been able to do it on her own. Or she might just want to know you are giving her your full undivided attention.
When you have other children, this can get tricky. But sometimes you have to give your gymnast a little more support as she navigates through her obstacles.
5. Keep focusing on your gymnast's strengths
When your gymnast is going through a tough season, it's easy to focus on her struggles and see her as a "victim." Instead, challenge yourself to see her strengths and focus only on those. Your gymnast can feel the way you think about her. And if you are stuck in seeing her as being less than capable or really struggling, she'll pick up on those thoughts.
Instead, remember the things that your gymnast does well. List out her strengths. See her as an overcomer. Imagine what it will be like when she's past her struggles and on the other end with more grit and stronger mindset skills. Again, the mentality in which you view your gymnast and her struggles is important. Make it a positive one!
Why a tough season is beneficial for your gymnast:
1. The obstacle was put there for a reason
I am a firm believer that any obstacle your gymnast goes through is something she is meant to overcome. In other words, her obstacle was put there for a specific reason.
For example, if your gymnast is going through a mental block it's because she most likely hasn't been kind to her brain or has been ignoring her inner guidance system. Mental blocks force her to partner up with her brain instead of going against it.
Or if your gymnast got injured or is sick and is sidelined for a few weeks or months, it might be that she needs to learn patience and to focus on what she CAN control instead of what she can't.
At the end of the day there is a good lesson she will learn from this obstacle. In other words, this obstacle was put there for a reason.
2. It forces your gymnast to work on her mindset
It's really easy for your gymnast to be lazy with her mindset when things are going well. But when a tough patch hits, your gymnast must be deliberate about her thoughts and must actively work to change them.
Being able to change her mindset to become more growth-minded is a tool she will need in life. But until she meets those challenges, she won't have an opportunity to practice this. That's why obstacles are so important.
Also remember that ALL successful gymnasts have gone through a season of hard. All the 2020 Olympians had to endure an extra year of training before the Olympics. Grace McCallum had hand surgery months before the Olympic Trials and her hand even got infected. MyKayla Skinner got covid in the year of the Olympics and had trouble getting her endurance and strength back. Remember that challenges are inevitable. It's how your gymnast responds to them that will make or break her. Therefore mindset work is so important.
3. She will grow and change (which is how she gets stronger)
In order for your gymnast to get through this obstacle she must grow in some way. If she doesn't change, she'll stay stuck. Growth equals change. So the good news is that growth will happen as a result of this season of hard.
Now if your gymnast is resistant to change or "stuck" in her thought patterns, then this process might be more painful for her. But it represents an opportunity for her to develop a growth mindset, which is necessary in life. Once she lets go of the need to stay the same she will soar. She just needs to get through this tough season with your support and guidance.
Getting though a tough season with your gymnast is never the easiest. But when you take the approach that there is so much to be learned in this season, then it will help you approach each day with a positive mindset. Remember to model a growth mindset, keep the lines of communication open between you and your gymnast, and get her the support she needs. In the end, your gymnast will be stronger and have so many more mental skills than before she entered into this tough season. Stay hopeful and reach out for support from a mental performance coach like myself if you need it!
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