For many gymnasts, off-season represents an enjoyable time to learn new skills and relish in the stress-free practices of summer.
While conditioning might be harder in off-season, it's still usually a few months of "break" from the pressures of competition. So overall the energy in the gym is lighter and happier.
Unfortunately, though, for some gymnasts learning new skills can be scary. And off-season can be just as stressful, if not more so, than competition season.
So what do you do if you have a gymnast who is afraid to learn new skills during up training?
Here are a few tips to help guide you through this struggle if your gymnast is someone who feels fear when learning new skills:
1. Acknowledge To Your Gymnast That Learning New Skills Can Be Scary
While I know a lot of parents hate to mention the words "scary" or "fear" when it comes to gymnastics, it's important that your gymnast feel validated in her fear. A simple "I know learning new skills can be scary" is good enough to let your gymnast know that you hear her concerns.
If you brush over her feelings of fear, then it can make things worse because she won't feel heard. Many parents will say things like "Oh, but you can do it" or "It's not scary." But those words only invalidate your gymnast's feelings of fear.
With that said, you don't need to make her fear a BIG deal. You simply need to acknowledge that it exists and that she has every reason to be fearful of learning new skills.
After all, throwing your body in the air into different positions can be scary! Of course we know that our gymnasts are skilled in flying through the air and that they have competent coaches who will help them through these new skills. But her brain might not always believe this when she's learning something new. So it CAN feel scary to her.
2. Remind Her Of Her Past Successes When Learning New Skills
Gymnastics is a sport in which there is always something new or harder to learn. This means at some point in the past, your gymnast needed to learn something harder than what she was doing. And that also means she was successful at learning a new skill.
That skill was probably scary for her at first. But somehow she was able to overcome her fear and learn the new skill. You can remind her of this and encourage her to remember what she did in the past to push past her fear.
3. Help Her Focus On The Right Thing
When your gymnast is experiencing fear, chances are those scary thoughts are dictating her behavior. When she goes to try a new skill or even thinks about trying it, she feels fear.
Our brains are hardwired to think negative thoughts and are always looking to protect us. So it's important that you let your gymnast know that if she doesn't give her brain a job to do, it will create its own job that won't be as helpful. Most likely those untrained thoughts will continue her cycle of fear which will only make her fear worse.
Instead, encourage your gymnast to come up with cue words she can say when trying her skill. These are words that will keep her mind focused on what she wants to do while attempting her skill. Here's a great article you can read that explains this in detail. This is one of the most important steps in overcoming fear.
4. Be A Listening Ear When She Has A Frustrating Practice
There are many ups and downs in gymnastics but especially when learning new skills. If your gymnast has a particularly rough day in practice and wants to vent about it, let her vent! But there's one caveat - don't try to "fix" her problem for her. Just listen!
One of the best things you can do as her mom is be there as a listening ear when she is frustrated. Give her a warm hug and tell her you love her. And then keep listening.
Some gymnasts learn best when they hear themselves talk. So this venting session can become a way for her to hash out her fears. Again, listen without interrupting. If she wants advice, she'll ask for it. But if she doesn't ask, don't give!
5. Practice Empowering Affirmations With Her
Most gymnasts have a phrase or two they like to say to themselves to help give them courage. But gymnasts have to be reminded to say these things. And the best way for her to remember is to practice these mantras over and over.
You can sit with your gymnast and discuss which words make her feel brave. Then print these mantras out and hang them up around the house (on the fridge, her desk, bathroom mirror, etc). The more she can see these empowering words, the more likely she will be to use them when it counts.
Above all, your gymnast needs to remember that she is brave. She's a gymnast who can do things that most girls her age can't even dream of. And she's undoubtedly had to be brave in the past.
At the end of the day, learning new skills can be scary for some gymnasts. It's important that you acknowledge your gymnast's fear so you don't invalidate her feelings.
Then remind her of her past successes when learning new skills and how some skills might have been hard for her to learn but that she pushed through anyway.
Most importantly, help her find cue words to go along with her skill so she can give her brain something to focus on other than fear. This is extremely effective when dealing with fear.
Also, she will have good days and frustrating days in the gym when learning new skills. Be sure to listen to her frustrations without trying to fix her problems. Sometimes just venting is enough for your gymnast to hear herself and come up with her own solutions for dealing with fear.
Finally, positive affirmations that help your gymnast feel brave and empowered will help her in those moments of fear. Print them out and put them around the house so your gymnast will constantly see and remember these phrases.
If her fear starts trickling to other skills in the gym or she seems to be struggling with this fear for a long time, then it might be helpful for your gymnast to talk to a mental performance coach like myself. When fear goes on for too long it can create patterns of thought and behavior that can sabotage your gymnast's success.
Good luck! If you need support as a parent of a gymnast, join The Stick It Girl Mom Squad, my private Facebook group for gym moms.
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