With gymnasts having to qualify for events like States and Regionals, it's likely that some won't make it. And if one of those gymnasts is your daughter, what do you do?
Or if your gymnast was just getting into a good competition rhythm and then got injured and is out for the rest of the season, what do you do?
If your gymnast has to repeat Level 8 but is strongly against it, what do you do?
As moms, watching your gymnast go through these disappointments can be excruciating.
You know how much your gymnast wants to achieve big goals and yet when they don't happen, you feel helpless.
Chances are you want to get rid of the disappointment she's feeling in lieu of your happier gymnast who is achieving her big goals.
Contrary to what it might feel like when you're parenting your gymnast through a disappointment, disappointment is actually a healthy emotion and is necessary for your gymnast to feel.
In fact, disappointment is an emotion that is important for your gymnast to experience in order to become more resilient and develop heathy coping skills in gymnastics.
Of course, this doesn't make going through it any easier. But hopefully it gives you peace in knowing that every disappointment is helping your gymnast develop life-long skills that will help her even out of the gym.
If your gymnast is experiencing major disappointment, she might cry a lot. She might mope around or lack motivation to do things she used to love to do. Handling this from your perspective can be tricky. But I've laid out a few tips to help you through.
How to help your gymnast handle disappointment:
1. Name her feeling
When emotions are big it's important to name them. Help her identify her feelings as disappointment. Sometimes your gymnast might not know why she feels so upset even though she knows what happened in the gym.
Disappointment is a form of sadness. But it's also the loss of her imagined dreams and wanted experiences. Perhaps the act of making it to States wasn't as important as experiencing the trip to a hotel with her teammates and feeling the satisfaction of earning her coach's respect.
When you name her disappointment, you let her know that it's a common emotion while also letting her know her feelings are understood. Saying something like "You're feeling disappointed. That's a big emotion" might help.
If your gymnast is someone who gets really emotional in the moment, you might wait to do this when she's calmed down. Sometimes doing anything other than giving hugs in an intense emotional situation like this can cause more big feelings instead of taming them.
2. Be empathetic
While it's easy to minimize your gymnast's disappointment by telling her that "It's not such a big deal" or "There's always next season," those statements can undermine your gymnast's feelings.
Our gymnasts aren't as experienced at managing disappointment as we are and therefore this really IS a big deal to her. She hasn't had as many opportunities to learn how to handle disappointment on her own in her lifetime. So every one she encounters is new territory for her.
Instead of brushing her disappointment off then, let your gymnast know that you understand how hard this is for her. You might even tell her a story of a big disappointment you had when you were her age.
When you can empathize with her, you help to let her know that she's not the only one in the world who has experienced this emotion. That can bring her some comfort in dealing with her own situation.
3. Give your gymnast space to work through her disappointment
Some gymnasts need physical space to feel and work through their disappointment. You might let her go to her room or you might even walk away and physically go into a different room. You can tell her "I'm going to give you some space to work through your disappointment." She might want to cry in the privacy of her own room.
In addition, some gymnasts need the emotional space to work through their disappointment. This can come in the form of being silent and just listening to your gymnast (instead of talking and/or giving advice). So while it might be your first instinct to want to talk it out, this might not work for your gymnast, especially if she's introverted.
By giving your gymnast space, you also show her that you trust her enough to have the ability to work through her disappointment on her own. This gives her the feeling that you trust her abilities and have faith in what she can overcome using her own devices.
This doesn't mean you abandon her in any way. You just give her space, either physical or emotional, to allow her to work through it on her own. However, some gymnasts need hugs and a shoulder to cry on. If that's your gymnast then make sure you're there to give those physical touches that she might need.
4. Give her coping strategies she can use
If your gymnast is incredibly upset, you can teach her (or remind her of) strategies she can use to calm her emotions down.
For example, deep breathing is a great way for her to regulate her emotions. One way to practice breathing is through a strategy known as 'breathing the rainbow.' This is when your gymnast practices deep breathing while thinking about her favorite things for each color of the rainbow.
Coloring or drawing might be things that your gymnast can do too to help her with her emotions. Snuggling up with her pet or a favorite stuffed animal might also help. Reading, texting a friend, or listening to calming music might also help.
Remember, you are not dismissing her disappointment. You're helping her find ways to work through it. You must allow her the time to work through her disappointment in healthy ways instead of stuffing her feelings inward. If it means she cries or mopes around for a few days, let her have that time.
5. Don't try to fix it for her
As parents, we often want to fix things for our children. But when you reach in and try to fix something, you lose the gift that your gymnast gets by learning how to cope with and manage the big feelings.
Every gymnast will have disappointments in her career. Whether it's not qualifying for big meets or having to repeat a level, disappointment is inevitable.
Think about MyKayla Skinner's journey through gymnastics and the disappointments she faced from being an alternate in Rio to not making event finals at the Tokyo Games. Obviously her career ended on a high note but it took a lot of disappointments along the way to get to that point. She easily could have let her earlier disappointments stop her from continuing on. But her resiliency kept her going.
So while you might want to fix a disappointing situation for your gymnast, instead let it be. Let your gymnast experience disappointment and learn how to cope with it.
Disappointment provides the opportunity for gymnasts to develop resiliency. It gives them the chance to learn how to overcome and come out stronger on the other end. While it might be uncomfortable to go through (for both gymnast and parent) it's an important and necessary part of gymnastics.
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