Perfectionism and gymnastics often go hand in hand.
It can be tricky knowing how to navigate the ups and downs that come from parenting a gymnast who sets really high expectations for herself.
Perfectionism is a trait that so many gymnasts have in common.
And yet it's one that can destroy a gymnast's confidence and sense of self-worth.
On one hand, it's great that your gymnast has such high expectations for herself. You want her to achieve her goals and feel a sense of accomplishment.
On the other hand, the stress and pressure it causes her can be overwhelming for both you and her.
Not to mention that for a perfectionist, she often feels failure when she doesn't achieve the standards she set. In fact, she can take an all-or-nothing approach to gymnastics which is detrimental to her self-esteem since gymnastics is a hard sport filled with failure after failure.
So what can you do if you have a gymnast who sets high expectations for herself and gets frustrated when she doesn't achieve them?
Here are 5 things you can do to help your perfectionist gymnast:
1. Help your gymnast identify what she can control and what she can't
Make it clear to your gymnast that there are many things she cannot control in terms of her success.
She can’t control how difficult the judges are judging that meet, her coach's behaviors or attitudes towards her, or how well other gymnasts perform around her.
She CAN control her effort, however, which is what you want to make sure she understands.
2. Model healthy self-talk for your gymnast
Teach your child to be compassionate towards herself as opposed to constantly critical.
You can do this by modeling your own healthy self-talk.
As silly as this may feel, having conversations with yourself out loud show your gymnast what you do in those situations. This helps her to direct her own behaviors when she faced with a similar situation.
Through your modeling, you will show your gymnast that you are kind to yourself even when you make a mistake.
You might say things like, “I forgot to sign that permission slip for your brother today. I’ll try to do better tomorrow,” or “I wasn’t paying attention and I forgot to start the dryer. I’ll find a different shirt for you to where and I’ll pay better attention next time you need a certain shirt."
While you might not be able to change the outcome with your words, you can use your words to help show your gymnast that mistakes happen and that you can be compassionate with yourself when they do.
3. Set realistic goals with your gymnast
Talk to your gymnast about the goals she wants to reach in gymnastics.
If her goals require perfection (i.e. getting only 9.0s or above on every event, getting first place at every meet, winning the Olympics), help her create more realistic goals.
Talk to her about why setting unrealistic goals can diminish her confidence. Help her get excited about the new and more realistic goals she is setting!
4. Praise your gymnast's effort and not her results
Avoid praising your gymnast for getting a 9.5 on bars.
Instead, praise her for working hard to get to that point.
Avoid praising her soley for getting her yurchenko on vault.
Instead, be sure to mention how proud you are of her for sticking with it and trying so hard until she got it.
You want to be crystal clear that it isn't just the result that is important. It's her effort.
In fact, you can take it one step farther by making sure your gymnast knows that you love her "win or lose." You don't need her to achieve any sort of goal to be loved.
5. Share stories of your own personal failures
Whether you were a gymnast yourself or other athlete (or maybe not even an athlete at all), share your own stories of failures.
Emphasize your failure and how you lived through it and the valuable lessons you learned from it.
Our gymnasts love to hear stories about their parents going through trials.
It helps to connect them to us and to show them that we are human too.
Hope those tips help! Remember, the goal is to help your gymnast foster a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
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