Social media plays a big role in your gymnast's life in this day and age, even if she is not allowed to be on it.
Teenage and pre-teen norms dictate that children have phones and are active on platforms like Instagram and TikTok (let's not forget Snapchat too) where comparison is always happening.
Some gymnasts seem to navigate this world of social media with grace, posting beautiful videos of themselves at their best, and seeming to be un-phased by this social comparison. But even the most accomplished gymnast can feel pressure to keep doing well when she sees other gymnasts outperforming her on social.
This is a tricky situation to navigate for both parent and gymnast. According to Jill Hicks, college recruiting consultant, gymnastics coaches use Instagram as their primary source of recruiting. They scroll through feeds and check out skills and accomplishments of potential recruits. So having an Instagram account sounds like a good idea if your child is looking to get recruited to a college gymnastics program.
But, if I remember correctly, Jill also mentioned that social isn't that important until a gymnast is at least a Level 9. That's when college recruiters start taking interest. Before then it's not important to have an Instagram account for recruiting purposes.
So what if you have a Level 4 or 5 gymnast who wants to post videos of herself on Instagram? And what if those videos are less than stellar compared to the content that you see from other gymnasts out there?
This is a great question and something I've heard parents struggling with lately. The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. It all boils down to what you feel comfortable with as a parent.
One of the big negatives of allowing your gymnast to have her own Instagram is that it opens her up to the world of social comparison.
She can now scroll through and see what not only her teammates are doing but also every single gymnast in the world! She might see gymnasts who are younger than her doing skills that are harder. Or she might she gymnasts her same age who are at a higher level. And this can lead to a major dip in self confidence.
On the other hand, social media also opens your gymnast up to inspiration.
She can see gymnasts achieving skills she might want to achieve. And this can help to motivate her and give her hope. It can even connect her with gymnasts from around the world and give her a built in support system when she posts her fails or struggles. Some gymnasts have made best friends through social by being brand ambassadors or taking part in events that require them to travel and spend time with other gymnasts at a retreat or photo shoot. So social media definitely has its positive benefits that can outweigh the negatives.
Even still, I know many parents struggle with whether or not to get a social media account for their gymnast. And this can cause a riff between parent and gymnast. If this is the case, it's important that you sit down with your gymnast and speak openly about your concerns as well as hear her point of view.
Here are some suggestions for how to have a conversation with your gymnast about getting a social media account:
1. Listen to what your gymnast is really asking for.
As a parent who might be against social media, it's easy for you to automatically shut down your gymnast's requests for a social media account. You might listen to her requests without really hearing what she is saying. But it's important that you understand why she wants to start posting her gymnastics videos on instagram.
Is it because she's the only one on her team who doesn't have an account and she feels left out? Feeling left out is a tough feeling, especially for an adolescent girl. If all of her teammates are privy to information before her because they see it on their social media accounts, that is going to contribute to your gymnast feeling socially isolated and possibly lower her sense of self-worth.
Is it because she feels proud of her progress and wants to document (and possibly show off) her skills along the way? It's important to allow your gymnast to focus on the journey and the process of getting new skills. If we wait until skills look perfect before posting, it sends the message that the "messy" stuff isn't worth acknowledging. Social feeds are a great way to document progress and to keep a journal of sorts.
Does she want to create an Instagram for college recruiting purposes? If so, remember that this isn't as important until the higher levels. But she can always start an Instagram now and later on hide the older posts from her feed if you feel you don't want to broadcast those less accomplished moments.
2. Compromise by finding a solution that feels acceptable to both of you.
Your gymnast might be begging for a social media account and you might not want her to have one. What is a compromise you can come to that can appease both parties?
One solution that has worked for some families is for mom to be the one in charge of her gymnast's social media account. Mom might create an account in her gymnast's name and then post videos as the season progresses. But ultimately mom is posting and monitoring comments and messages. This way your gymnast can still borrow your phone and look at her profile but she isn't the one making the decisions over what to post.
Another solution is for you as a parent to use your own account to post videos of your gymnast. Similar to above, you are in charge but this time all of the videos stay on your personal account instead of a separate gymnastics account. When your gymnast is at a high enough level to think about college recruiting, you might then switch over to a child account that you manage.
Finally, as a parent you can create an account for your gymnast and your gymnast can post content...but you monitor the account often, including monitoring content and messages.
Again, there is no one size fits all approach to social media. The bottom line is that you have to find a system that feels good and works for your family. If you find yourself really resisting the idea of your gymnast having a social profile, ask yourself why? Is it because you're worried she won't be able to handle the criticism? Is comparison an issue? Are you scared this will make her feel terrible about herself as a gymnast?
One thing I've learned from this generation of gymnasts is that they are hard-wired differently than us! It's like they were born media ready. That's not to say that social media doesn't affect their self-esteem because I've seen firsthand how it does. But having a social media account is a good learning lesson for how to navigate this "new" media-infused world. We can only keep our children sheltered for so long (trust me, I've tried it with my kids). So some parents ultimately decide to embrace it.
3. Have conversations about what you see on social so your gymnast understands what she is seeing.
One of the toughest things I contend with as a mental performance coach is having gymnasts who are constantly comparing themselves to the gymnasts they see on social media. I remind them that those gymnasts are posting their highlights' reel. Everything they put out there are from their best routines or competitions. The "bad" days or weak routines don't get air time on their feed.
If you can have an open conversation with your gymnast about this concept, it can help her realize that what she sees on social isn't always reality. I think it's also important that you have her read articles or watch podcasts/interviews from accomplished gymnasts who talk openly about their struggles through gymnastics.
Many elite gymnasts have had mental blocks or struggled with nerves and fear in their careers. Some have had terrible coaches who were verbally abusive or ignored them when they didn't perform well. I think it's important to share those hardship stories with your gymnasts so they learn that the glory they see is only one piece of the journey. Most of gymnastics isn't as glamorous as what they might see on social media.
Social media can be a double edged sword. We want to protect our gymnasts from the comparisons and mean comments but at the same time they fight to belong to that world, since that is what they were born into. There is no right answer but it's always important that you follow your gut and have faith that your gymnast can handle more than you think.
This is definitely a conversation worth continuing! If you have any comments about this topic, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below and/or in my private Facebook group.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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