Is your gymnast always so hard on herself?

How To Help A Gymnast Who Is Too Hard on Herself - article

Maybe she's a perfectionist and won't stop until she gets a skill right.

Or maybe she gets upset with herself when she doesn't get something right on the first or second try.

She always seems to have very high expectations for herself and isn't happy with her effort most of the time or thinks she has to constantly push more and more.

Maybe she even compares herself to other gymnasts all the time or constantly feels "not good enough."

 

If so, just know that many of the gymnasts I work with 1-on-1 have similar traits. I find with these gymnasts, one of the best ways to help them be more easy on themselves is to teach them how to let go of their high, and often unrealistic, expectations while teaching them what they should focus on instead (spoiler alert - it's not the outcome). In addition, they need to build up their confidence.

Overcoming High Expectations In Gymnastics

As gymnasts go through the levels and learn more and more skills, they often put more expectations on themselves. 

While it's important for gymnasts to constantly set stretch goals and work towards them, there is a difference between having big goals and having strict expectations. 

Expectations can come from many different sources such as:

  • expectations a gymnast places on herself based on what she thinks she should do or has done in the past
  • expectations she puts on herself based on what she thinks a "good" gymnast does
  • expectations she feels from others such as her coaches, teammates, or parents

When a gymnast hangs onto these expectations, she becomes rigid in her thinking and adopts a "fixed" mindset.

With a fixed mindset she only focuses on the things she cannot do and loses sight of what she is capable of with grit, perseverance, and time. In other words, she doesn't necessarily believe she can get better with hard work. She believes her abilities are fixed or set in stone.

How Does A Gymnast Let Go Of Her High Expectations

Remember that expectations aren't necessarily bad. It's when a gymnast maintains high expectations that dictate how she SHOULD perform which are often based on perfectionistic beliefs, that her confidence can be negatively affected. This is because there is more pressure to reach these standards and when a gymnast fails to meet these standards, her confidence takes a dip.

To let go of her high expectations, a gymnast needs to focus on process goals, which are smaller goals that put emphasis on things she can control as opposed to things that are outside of her control.

Examples of process goals:

  • doing 10 press handstands each day
  • doing an extra rep of every conditioning exercise in practice
  • watching a highlights reel every night before bed
  • focusing on key words during her tumbling pass
  • being more aggressive on her run during vault
  • making 10 attempts at her kip each practice

You can see that the goal is more on the process and effort a gymnast can put forth, rather than the actual outcome.

In contrast, examples of outcome goals might be:

  • Get my kip 
  • Score a 9.0 or higher on beam at my meet
  • Hit my routine with no mistakes
  • Get first place all around

When she lets go of the outcome and focuses on the process of getting her skills, a gymnast can then be be free to try her best without any expectation of having to get her skill. And ironically, with little to no expectations she will achieve her outcome goals!

In addition to letting go of strict expectations, a gymnast must also work on building more confidence. High confidence and low expectation is the recipe for a successful gymnastics career.

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How can your gymnast gain more confidence?

First off, self-confidence is a skill that needs to be practiced and built upon. Self-confidence is also task-dependent, meaning it can change depending on what skill she is doing.

She might feel confident on vault but have low self-confidence on bars. It's important that she works on front-loading her confidence as much as possible, especially on events that she feels less confident on.

How does she front-load her confidence?

There are many ways to build up confidence. The key is for your gymnast to work on this skill consistently. Confidence is a moving target and will always need to be fostered.

Here are a few examples of how your gymnast can build up more confidence:

1. Have her create a Confidence Resume

A confidence resume is when your gymnast writes down many different things in her gymnastics career that she is proud of. She can ask herself questions such as "What am I most proud of?" or "What is my biggest success in gymnastics?" or "What have I been complimented on in the past as a gymnast?"

This resume can also include a list of all the skills she's learned since beginning gymnastics. I like to call this a "Book of Proof." When she can look at all of the things she's learned in gymnastics, it can boost up her feelings of confidence and success.

 

2. Have her create a Highlights Reel

A highlights reel is a video of all of your gymnast's best routines from the season spliced together into one video. This is something she can watch over and over to help her mind see successful images of herself. This highlights reel can become part of her daily mental imagery routine.

 

3. Ask herself "What makes me feel most confident?"

Every gymnast is different and what makes one gymnast confident might not have the same effect on another. Some of the following things can help your gymnast build up confidence:

  • past successful competitions
  • good training and preparation
  • supportive coaches
  • mental training routines
  • equipment that feels good

 

Stick It Girl Boutique - gymnastics gifts

 

When she can determine what helps her feel more confident, then she can focus on doing or surrounding herself with those things. Maybe it means focusing on being prepared. Or maybe it's remembering the support she has from her coaches. Maybe it's remembering that the equipment stays the same (mostly) from competition to competition and that it's just her and the equipment. 

Regardless of what builds up her confidence, your gymnast should focus on those things over and over.

You can also read the following articles for more ideas on how to build up confidence in gymnastics:

10 Ways To Develop Confidence As A Gymnast

5 Ways To Help Your Gymnast Develop Confidence

How The Word "Maybe" Can Help Your Gymnast's Confidence 

 

How Can You Help Your Gymnast Be Less Hard On Herself?

The million dollar question, however, is what can you do as her parent to help your gymnast be less hard on herself.

Here are a few tips:

1. Praise her effort and not the outcome

When you focus on praising effort, you put emphasis on things she can control. You let her know it's ok to try and still fail. When you praise outcomes, on the other hand, she learns that she is only as good as her results. That means she will be tougher on herself if she doesn't meet those expectations.

 

2. Let her know you love her for her and not for being a gymnast

It's common for gymnasts to associate with being a gymnast and get their entire self-worth wrapped up in the identity of being a gymnast. It's important that you let her know you love her for her innate qualities (her sensitivity, kind heart, helpfulness) rather than her abilities as a gymnast. Praise her unique qualities often instead of always complimenting her for her skills as a gymnast.

 

3. Model kind behavior towards yourself in front of your gymnast

Our gymnasts are sponges and will pick up the habits and thoughts that we emit out into the world. If you are constantly hard on yourself in front of your gymnast, she will see this. Practice being kinder and more compassionate towards yourself and make sure your gymnast sees this behavior. Modeling compassion towards yourself is important in helping your gymnast learn this way of coping for herself too.

 

In sum, it's important to remember that in order for your gymnast to be less "hard" on herself, she has to let go of her high, strict expectations and build up her confidence. The ideal situation is when your gymnast can perform without judging herself and with little expectations as to what the outcome will be. This takes time to foster, but is worth the effort!

As her parent, you want to make sure you are praising her efforts, making it clear to her that you love her for her innate qualities and not just her talent as a gymnast, and that you are modeling compassionate behavior towards yourself.

 

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If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.

 

Gymnastics Mental Blocks Guidebook for Parents

 

Helpful Links:

 

 

Gymnastics Mental Coach Anna Kojac, M.Ed.

 

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2 comments

Hi Emily,
Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you found this article helpful. It’s definitely tough when you focus on what you SHOULD be able to do but it’s very common for a lot of gymnasts. It’s natural to work hard and feel like your skills should be perfect by now. The pressure of competition can add to it as well because you want to get all your skills and you want to feel confident doing them before meet season starts. The tips you mentioned for yourself are all great! Patience and self-compassion are key. You’ve got this!
-Coach Anna

Coach Anna

I found this very helpful. I am training to be a level 10 gymnast and its my first year and I have defiantly had some unrealistic expectations of myself. Not to mention I tore a ligament in my ankle before summer started so I was out the entire summer so these past couple months have been pretty difficult for me. I find that if I mess up on a skill I’ve had for a while I get super upset because I expect it should be perfect by now. I spent 2 years competing a blind handstand to bail handstand I should have perfect handstands on bars. Thats what goes on in my mind and I think mainly thats my biggest issue. Sometimes if its not that it will be worse like I’m trying to get a full on vault but I mess up and do a tuck. I will burst into tears and I don’t even know why. It won’t be that big of a deal I just get so in my head about my turns and it affects my performance. I just want everything to be put together before I start competing because right now I have low self esteem, confidence, and I overall just don’t feel ready on most of my events. My coaches defiantly help me a lot and I understand where they are coming from I just feel so bad because I don’t mean to tear myself down I’m just so hard on myself. I don’t want to be that one kid on the team thats a crybaby and doesn’t get any work done because she’s so focused on her previous turn. But thats literally me. I just need to remember that I’m still training and perfection doesn’t happen overnight. I do have some good days and I have some bad days. I have had 2 bad days in a row and I’m constantly watching TED talks about the brain, how to be more positive, and gymnastics videos to find out what I’m doing wrong. Overall, I like reading stuff like this because it reminds me that other gymnasts feel this way and I’m not the only one. I need to fix my habits, take every day one correction at a time, and remember that hard-work will lead to my ultimate goals in the end!

Emily

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