Do you notice that your gymnast is often negative when she talks about herself in gymnastics?
Gymnastics is a tough sport. But do you know what else is tough? Your gymnast's resilience!
But having to be so tough comes with good and bad consequences.
First, your gymnast has learned to handle the challenging obstacles that come her way because she's had to endure many difficult situations. These might have been mental blocks, abusive coaches, injuries, mean teammates, low scores, frustration over getting skills, not moving up levels, or anything else that she has had to struggle with.
On the other hand, she's likely learned to be super critical of herself. She expects perfection. She has high standards and sets big goals. And when she doesn't meet these expectations, she's hard on herself.
You might compliment her and she might brush it off and talk about what she did wrong instead.
Or you might tell her how proud you are of her effort and she might not receive it well because she's not proud of herself.
While it can be frustrating to see this disconnect between how you think she should be feeling about herself and how she's really feeling, always remember that your gymnast's point of view is most important when it comes to her perceptions of herself.
In fact, one thing that gymnasts get stuck on is a negativity bias.
The negativity bias is the tendency to notice negative events more readily and to dwell on these events.
This can cause your gymnast to:
- Remember insults from her coach more easily than praise
- Think about negative things more frequently than positive things (especially things like falling or getting hurt)
- Respond more strongly to negative situations than to ones that are just as positive (i.e. hanging onto the missing her bars dismount at her State meet as opposed to remembering her first place finish at every meet that season)
- Dwell on her mistakes
Now a negativity bias is a natural response by your gymnast's brain to her surroundings. She is hard-wired (as we all are) to seek out negative things so her brain can protect her. If it finds all the negatives, it can then make a plan for how to get through these life-threatening situations safely.
While this survival mechanism was a necessary part of our evolution as humans, it's not always helpful in present day gymnastics. And it's especially unhelpful when it keeps your gymnast stuck on focusing on all the negative things that she does, her coach does to her, or that happen to her in gymnastics.
So what do you do if you have a gymnast who is really negative all the time?
Here are a few tips:
1. Remember that your gymnast will have a tendency to interpret feedback in a negative way, even if it's constructive.
You can tell your gymnast the 5 great things she did at a meet and mention the 1 thing you think she needs to improve on ("Hey, maybe if you point your toes more, you'll get a higher score.") and she'll dwell on the 1 critical thing.
So while you might be tempted to give corrections or offer suggestions for how your gymnast can improve, bite your tongue. She'll get plenty of corrections from her coaches. Let them do the talking and give her the constructive feedback.
2. Validate her negative feelings. Don't brush them off.
This might sound counter-intuitive, especially if you're trying to get your gymnast to focus on the positives, but it's actually an important step in helping your gymnast overcome her negative feelings.
While you might not want your gymnast to dwell on the negatives, validating her feelings will help her move past them more quickly.
Without realizing it, you might want to quickly switch her mindset to the opposite of what she's thinking:
- "Oh it wasn't that bad of a meet, sweetie"
- "You did just as well as your teammates."
- "Coach is just being coach."
- "You've had worse scores."
What this doesn't do, however, is tell your gymnast you've heard her negative feelings. You're quickly trying to sweep them under the rug so she doesn't dwell on them, but truth be told she is going to dwell on them anyway. Instead, let her know you hear her disappointment. This can help her move through her negative feelings faster.
3. Be a positive example for her.
Let's face it. We all have negative thoughts and sometimes those thoughts can come out in the words we speak, both to ourselves and to our gymnasts. Being mindful of your own negativity bias and taking steps to actively become a more positive thinking person can provide your gymnast will the role model she needs.
Take some time to notice your own thoughts. Do you dwell on the negatives too? Do you find yourself talking about all the things that went wrong instead of the things that went right in your own day-to-day life? Are you constantly complaining about a co-worker or relative? Do you talk about how unfair life is?
While your day-to-day life might not relate to gymnastics, it's still a continuous example of how you think and respond to different situations. Make sure you're using every opportunity to show your gymnast how you are working to overcome your own negativity bias.
4. Set her up with the tools she needs to change her negative thoughts.
You can tell your gymnast to be more positive, you can redirect her towards more positive thoughts, and you can be the example she needs to see, but you can't change her thoughts for her. This is something she needs to work on herself.
Some gymnasts are more, should I say, "strong-willed" than others and tend to focus on the negative more often. As frustrating as that is, it's a part of who your gymnast has been and it might take more effort for her to change her thinking. Be sure to help her stick with trying to actively change these thoughts.
One way to do this is to set her up with the tools she needs to work on building up this new skill set. A great way to do this is to enroll her in the Stick It Girl Academy, my membership community for competitive gymnasts. She'll get weekly LIVE trainings, pre-recording trainings, and worksheets to help her develop her mental skills. These mental skills need to be worked on just as much as her gymnastics skills but unfortunately most gymnasts spend little to no time trying to build up their mental game.
While you can't make your gymnast change, you can understand some of the things she needs to work on and direct her to the resources to help her.
These include things like:
- Being aware of and stopping negative self-talk
- Reframing her negative thoughts/situation
- Establishing new patterns of thought
- Giving extra attention to the positive moments
One way to get her started is to create a gratitude jar for your gymnast. You can have her write in one thing she is grateful for each day. Her "thing" doesn't have to relate to gymnastics if she doesn't want it to. But by doing this she is teaching her brain to focus on the more positive aspects of her life! You might even start her with my 5-Day Gratitude Challenge.
Listening to your gymnast be so hard on herself is really tough as a parent. And when you notice that she seems to focus on all the things she did wrong or all the things she needs to improve, you might want to make all that negativity go away. But remember that your gymnast is hard-wired with this negativity bias (as are you) and that it takes time to re-pattern her brain to think differently.
It's important that you limit the "corrections" you give your gymnast since she'll likely dwell on the mistake if you point it out. Validate the negative feelings she's having (even if you don't agree with them) so that she feels heard. Be a positive example for her and show her how you actively work to overcome your negativity bias. And finally equip her with the tools she needs by setting her up with support.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Free Downloads: Get free gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics.
- Stick It Girl Academy: Enroll your gymnast in my membership community where she can learn different mental training techniques and get on a weekly LIVE call with myself and other competitive gymnasts.
- 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