No gymnast likes to fail. In fact, most gymnasts hate it.
But did you know that failure in gymnastics is necessary?
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Yep, failure is necessary because it's part of the process of success!
So what exactly is failure?
Failure means an absence or lack of success.
But the beauty of failure is that it has different meanings for everyone.
What one gymnast considers to be failure (falling one time on beam at a meet) might be success to another gymnast (ONLY falling one time on beam at a meet when she usually falls 3 times!).
And because failure has different meanings depending on whose perspective it's coming from, this means that you can personally change your definition of failure.
So now that we know the definition of failure, let's talk about the two types of failure:
First type of failure in gymnastics: Failing With Courage
This type of failure is when you go out there and give it your all. You attempt a new skill, you gather courage to finish your routine after you fall or forget your routine, you put yourself out there and try.
While you might end up embarrassed after you fail, that is the biggest price you'll pay. And if you learn to live with the feelings of embarrassment, then you will be unstoppable because you won't be so afraid of failing. If you know you can be embarrassed and still get over that feeling, then you're more likely to put yourself in a situation where you might be embarrassed because you know you'll survive it!
Second type of failure in gymnastics: Failing By Avoidance
This is what gymnasts who play it safe do. They avoid situations where they might fail. If a situation seems too scary or they know they won't be perfect when they do something new, they just don't do it. They avoid that situation.
While it might seem like avoiding failure in gymnastics means they do not fail, I argue that this type of behavior is true failure. When you play it small, you don't put yourself out there and you won't reap the benefits of trying something new. You are afraid of embarrassment and so you avoid any situation that puts you in that position. This is not success, this is failure!
Why All Gymnasts Should Embrace Failure
1. Failure In Gymnastics Provides Valuable Information On The Road To Success
Every time you fail in gymnastics you learn something new. If you competed poorly, you get to ask yourself "Why?" You can look back and question what might have happened - were you tired, unfocused, nervous, putting a lot of pressure on yourself, low on energy, overly excited? This is all valuable information that will help you make changes so that you can succeed the next time around.
Each mistake brings you more data points. It gives you information that you can use to help you in the future. The more times you fail, the more you learn about yourself.
In fact, mistakes are necessary!
Without mistakes you wouldn't grow and learn.
2. What We Might Perceive As Failure Isn't Really True Failure
I talked about how failure is different for everyone. Most of the time, the failure you think you just had is self-imposed. But in the grand scheme of things, it isn't really true failure. If you are alive and standing afterwards, then you haven't failed. You just need to keep trying.
Sure, you might have fallen at your meet, but maybe you still ended up with a great score or ended up coming back from that fall better than you have in the past. Success!
Or maybe you wanted to learn a skill by a certain date and you still haven't learned it. Well, you might not have hit that self-imposed goal but until you stop trying you haven't really failed.
Failure is what you make it. Which means in every situation you can find a success.
3. Failure Gets You Comfortable With Feeling Embarrassed
Most of the time what gymnasts fear most about failure is the embarrassment that might come along with that failure. "What if other gymnasts see me fall flat on my face? I'll be embarrassed." Yes, you will be embarrassed but so what?!
When you can become comfortable with that feeling of embarrassment then you are invincible because you won't let embarrassment stop you from trying new things or from making mistakes.
So get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
4. Take The Emotion Out Of Failure
Ok, I know. This is really hard to do. When you fail, there are emotions involved. And often they're really intense. You are mad, sad, disappointed, frustrated...the list goes on and on.
But if you can step back for a moment and look at your failure from an objective point of view, you can see failure for what it is - a situation that went differently than you wanted it to go. Again, this serves as valuable data (see point #2) to help you in your future.
5. Remember That The Opposite of Success Isn't Failure; It's Not Trying
At the basic level, the more times she tries the more she will fail. If she's not failing then she's not trying. So make sure she knows that failure, itself, is part of the process that leads to success. It's not the opposite of it.
When a gymnast stops trying, however, is when she has failed. Again, the only way to fail is to give up.
Those were 5 ways to embrace failure in gymnastics. While failure may not feel good to you in the moment, always remember that it is an integral part of the process towards success. It provides you with valuable information that you can use to help you succeed when you try again. When you get comfortable with feeling embarrassed, then failure has no more power over you. And if you can take a step back and look at your failure without the emotion, you'll gain valuable data points. All successful athletes fail and the more you try, the more you will fail. That is law.
Good luck! I'm going to leave you with some of my favorite failure quotes:
"Just because you failed, doesn't mean you're a failure."
"Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo."
"Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
"You are only a failure when you quit trying."
"Failure is not the opposite of success. It's part of success."
"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."
Here's the video version of this article on embracing failure in gymnastics, if you prefer to watch:
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