Communicating with your gymnastics coach can be scary, especially if you're not used to speaking up or advocating for yourself.
But it's a necessary skill to learn in gymnastics. In fact, it's vital to so many aspects of your career as you move along your gymnastics journey.
As things become more challenging and you face more advanced levels of gymnastics, there will be many times when you'll need to advocate for yourself and what you need.
When I work with gymnasts, I find that many are afraid to talk to their coaches. Some of this is because they've never learned how to communicate properly with adults. And some is because they're afraid of what their coach will say back to them.
Others have mean coaches and they're afraid of the consequences of speaking up. Or the culture in their gym is such that speaking up is frowned upon.
Maybe they even tried speaking up but weren't heard. Or they wanted to speak up but didn't know what to say!
I get how scary it can be to talk to your gymnastics coach!
As a gymnast who had a tough time advocating for myself, I know that sometimes it's easier to stay quiet and just handle the consequences of not speaking up as they come.
Unfortunately, if you don't learn how to speak up, you put both you and your coach at a disadvantage.
I believe that all gymnastics coaches, despite how they might present themselves to you, want you to succeed.
Some might want you to succeed at the expense of everything else. Others might want you to succeed so they can show off what good coaches they are. And still others want you to succeed because they are good-hearted people and want what's best for you.
But at the bottom of it all, most coaches do have your best interest in mind.
Why You Need To Speak Up
While speaking up might be uncomfortable, it's important for a number of reasons:
1. You have to advocate for yourself because no one else will.
2. If you don't speak up your coach won't be able to help you.
2. If you don't speak up, your coach might think you're not really serious or don't want to succeed.
3. If you don't speak up, you could get hurt.
4. If you don't speak up it could turn into a bigger problem.
Never say these three words to your coach
In addition, when you do try to communicate with your gymnastics coach, there are 3 words you should absolutely NEVER EVER say to when he/she asks you what's wrong.
Those words are...(drumroll please)...
"I DON'T KNOW"
These words are a recipe for disaster. When coaches hear these words they make up their own interpretations. They might think "Maybe she's lazy" or "Maybe she doesn't care" or "Maybe she isn't focused enough."
The truth is, in most cases none of those cases apply to you.
Often gymnasts use this answer when they're going through a mental block or a skill starts to feel wonky and they don't know why.
So yes, it's possible that you don't know what's wrong. Not being able to do a skill or feeling "off" in your gymnastics is confusing. And it's likely that you aren't able to articulate in words what is bothering you.
But there IS something wrong and you have to be able to communicate that effectively to your coach.
So something you can say instead to your coach when he/she asks you what's wrong is: "I'm not sure coach but something isn't right. This skill all of a sudden feels strange and I'm scared to do it."
While you still aren't sure what's wrong, you're able to communicate to your coach that something isn't right and that you need help. This is a much different response than "I don't know."
Tips for Getting The Courage To Speak Up
One way to get better at speaking up is to try these tips:
1. Think about what you're going to say ahead of time.
If you just ask to meet with your coach but aren't really sure what to say, then it's a good idea that you think about it ahead of time.
2. Practice talking to a mirror
Not only do you want to think about what you want to say, you should also practice it in the mirror. This gives you a chance to see your facial expressions as you're talking and also get used to looking at another face.
3. Role play ahead of time with your parents or teammates
It's always a good idea to practice what you're going to say ahead of time. It helps you feel more comfortable. Have your parent or teammate pretend to be your coach and try speaking to them as you would your coach. It might feel awkward doing this but it builds the necessary skills to learn how to communicate more effectively.
4. Speak to the coach you feel the most comfortable with
If given a choice, speak with the coach who is the nicest or easiest to talk to. This will give you some courage since you know that coach might be a little more receptive to hearing what you have to say.
Try These Things When You Do Finally Talk To Your Coach
1. Be sure to schedule in a time to talk to your coach
Coaches are a lot more receptive when you have a meeting scheduled with them than when you just approach them at a possibly inopportune time during practice. Don't catch them off guard. Instead give them time to receive your request to talk it out.
2. Let your coach know what you've already tried or what you're doing
If you're working with a mental coach then let your gymnastics coach know so he/she knows that you're working things out. If you're trying to do things a certain way in practice because it helps you focus or move on from your mental block, then you should let your coach know. The more information you can give to your coach, the better.
3. Let your coach know what is helpful to you
Unless you tell your coach the things that help you, he/she won't know what those are. If your coach does something in practice that helps you, then make sure you let him/her know. Likewise, if your coach does things in practice that don't help you, be sure to let him/her know too.
So while communicating with your coach can be scary, it's an important skill to work on. The more you can communicate with your coach, the better your gymnastics journey can be. You'll not only help your coach understand you better, but you'll get the support that you need. If talking to your coach is difficult, remember to practice ahead of time by talking to your parent or teammate. At the end of the day, even if you're not sure what's wrong, you need to communicate that to your coaches.
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