3 Ways To Help Your Gymnast Manage Pressure In Gymnastics

Pressure in gymnastics is a limiting factor for so many gymnasts. But would you believe me if I told you that pressure is a made up thing? 

It's true, pressure is just a perceived concept. It's something that isn't really real. Or at least, it's not something you can see with your eyes or touch with your bare hands.

But the truth is, pressure is VERY real for our gymnasts. Whether they put high expectations on themselves or feel the weight of other's expectations, pressure can quickly turn a happy gymnast into a heavy-hearted one.

As competition approaches for many optional level gymnasts, it's clear that gymnasts all over the country are navigating through the stress of it all. Yet this time, it's at a level that is much deeper than ever before.

We might be far enough removed from the lockdowns of Covid (maybe not for my International gymnasts), but not far enough removed to avoid feeling the effects of lack of practice, gym closures, and blocked skills. As a result, what I see emerging is a cohort of gymnasts who feel extreme pressure now more than ever. They have pressure to learn skills, pressure to regain skills, pressure to catch up to their dreams, pressure to recover from their injuries, and just plain old pressure to be the best gymnasts they can be.

And this pressure is causing mental blocks, plain and simple. It's causing increased nerves and stress. It's causing our gymnast's brains to freeze up in self-defense.

So what can you do if you have a gymnast who is under a lot of stress or pressure, whether in the gym or in school?

Here are 3 tips for how to help your gymnast manage pressure in gymnastics.

Tip #1: Find Ways To Lighten Up Your Gymnast's Workload

There's no doubt that gymnasts are overloaded these days. From long practices to an increased workload at school to managing the stress of Covid, our gymnasts are feeling the effects of this pressure. 

While you might not be able to alleviate your gymnast's workload, you can try to find ways to make it easier. Teaching your gymnast better time management strategies can help her not feel so overloaded with school stress. Scheduling in downtime over the weekend or one week night a week can help her take breathers throughout the week. Assessing her stress and figuring out what can be eliminated is an important thing you can do with your gymnast.

The more you give her brain time to decompress, the easier things will feel for her. When her brain is overloaded with anything in life, she will feel the effects in gymnastics. This means school stress, home stress, or social stress can all affect her skills in the gym. If you're noticing her starting to block on skills or become more fearful, it's worth looking at the current stressors in her life.

Tip #2: Encourage Her To Keep A Journal To Get Out Her Worries

Journaling is an effective way to get those overwhelmed feelings onto paper and out of your gymnast's head. When she writes down her thoughts, she can lighten the load her brain is feeling. Even if nothing changes at all, that little bit of a brain dump can make a world of difference.

Your gymnast can keep a journal right by her bed so at night before bed she can jot down her thoughts. She can write down anything that comes to mind. If she's feeling pressured or worried about something, she can put those feelings onto paper. This can help her make sense of her pressures and possibly work through ways to alleviate some of them.

She can also do the exercise of writing down her pressures on paper and then crossing them out or tearing them up. This gives her a sense of control and can help her feel better immediately.

Tip #3: Make Sure You're Not Putting Extra Pressure On Your Gymnast

As parents, we have good intentions when it comes to our gymnasts. We want to see them reach their full potential so we often do things to help them. But one thing parents must realize is often times gymnasts perceive those good intentions as pressure.

If you are an involved parent who watches practices, attends every meet, helps your gymnast practice at home, gives her tips, or asks her questions about her practices/meets, you might be putting extra pressure on your gymnast. And sadly, you might not even realize it.

Instead, what you should do is focus on supporting your gymnast as a mom, not as a gymnastics mom. What this means is being there for the hugs, the "I love you no matter what," or the "I'm here to talk if you need" instead of the "How did it go?" or "What did your coach say?" or "What happened at your meet?"

While I know you're a caring parent, you still want to make sure you're not dumping any expectations onto your gymnast unknowingly. And by asking questions that are directly related to her skills or experiences in the gym, you are adding an extra layer of expectations that can really weigh your gymnast down mentally. Making comments about her performance or encouraging her to do her mental training can also be perceived as pressure. 

The best thing to do then is to focus on being a listening ear and letting your gymnast know you are there for her for anything she needs. Then let her handle the rest.

 

With competition season approaching for many of our upper level gymnasts, you want to make sure you're helping your gymnast manage her pressure and approach her meets in the best frame of mind possible. Look at the workload she's currently under, whether it's at school, in her extracurricular activities, or in the gym, and see if there are things you can do to help her lessen it. Then you can also encourage your gymnast to keep a journal to get her pressures and worries onto paper. That can help to offload her brain. Finally, be sure you're not putting any extra stress on your gymnast by constantly asking questions about gymnastics or putting your expectations onto her. 

 

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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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