With competition season approaching for many gymnasts, it's important to stay healthy and strong. Unfortunately, many gymnasts get injured right before meet season when stress is at its highest. This can lead to a gymnast missing most, if not all, of her season resulting in disappointment and frustration.
Some injuries in gymnastics are not always preventable. Maybe your gymnast stubbed her big toe on a mat and ended up breaking it. Or she rolled her ankle when she stepped off the trampoline and is now in a boot for weeks. These injuries can be equally frustrating because they feel like "silly" injuries. But it's important to note that the end result is the same - your gymnast ends up missing out on regular practice which can then affect her mental state, especially if it's right before competition season begins.
While these "silly" injuries might not be preventable, there are a few things your gymnast can do to minimize her chance of preventable injuries in gymnastics.
Here Are 3 Ways To Prevent Injuries In Gymnastics:
1. Be Sure Your Gymnast Is Taking Care of Her Physical Body
I think it goes without saying that the first step to preventing injuries is making sure your gymnast is taking care of her physical body in the best way possible. This starts with adequate amounts of sleep so that her body is well-equipped to train. Even small decreases in the amount of sleep your gymnast gets can affect her performance.
Another way to take care of her physical body is for your gymnast to pay attention to her nutrition. This is something you can help her with as her parent. Is the nutrition she's getting adequate in fueling her body? If she's going through a high intensity period of training, she must make sure she's getting the proper nutrients she needs. If she's sluggish or her muscles don't have the adequate nutrition to grow, she will likely under-rotate her passes, not get enough of a block on her skills, or have too little power. These are all things that can lead to injuries.
Since nutrition can be complex, if you're not certain whether your gymnast is getting the proper fuel she needs, definitely reach out to a qualified sports dietician.
In addition to proper nutrition, staying hydrated is important in preventing injuries. Small amounts of dehydration can lead to big losses in power and strength. It's important that your gymnast carry bring a water bottle and drink frequently during practice, as well as before and after to ensure she's taking in enough fluids. If she has a coach who doesn't allow water breaks, this is a red flag. Make sure your gymnast has ample opportunity to stay hydrated during practice.
Your gymnast should also make sure she's stretching properly and not overstretching. A gymnast should always have a good balance between strength and flexibility. Gymnasts who are overly flexible can lack much needed strength and vice versa. This disproportionate relationship can lead to injuries if not addressed.
Overall, it's important that your gymnast give her body the fuel and care it needs to continue to perform at such a high level.
2. Make Sure Your Gymnast Is Managing Her Stress
This is perhaps one of the leading causes of injuries prior to competition season beginning. When your gymnast is under stress, she is more prone to injury. Stress causes physiological changes in her body that can make doing skills more difficult. Her body has to work harder to do the same skill. This increased tension can cause many different effects in her body such as increased blood pressure, decreased oxygen flow, and fight-or-flight bodily symptoms such as rapid heart beat or increased sweatiness.
Another thing stress can cause is mental fatigue. Mental fatigue is when it's harder for your gymnast to focus. In gymnastics, this might even lead to overthinking because she isn't feeling certain or confident about what she's doing.
These effects can lead to her not doing a skill correctly. She might under-rotate a skill. She might over-rotate a skill. She might balk midway through a skill because things feels wonky in her body.
Stress can be tricky to navigate because every gymnast has a different perception of what it means to be stressed and how it affects them. What one gymnast may be able to 'handle' may be too much for another gymnast. The best thing you can do for your gymnast is try to help her navigate through her stressors by finding ways she can effectively move through them.
If her schedule is overbooked, try to get rid of some activities. If she's overloaded with schoolwork, help her manage her time better.
While you can't take away the pressure of competition, you can provide her with the tools to navigate through them such as enrolling her in the Stick It Girl Academy. You can also be cognizant of the motivational climate she's exposed to in her gym from her coaches and teammates.
Stress is a huge factor in injury and should not be overlooked.
3. Encourage Your Gymnast To Speak up
One of the biggest factors leading to injury is a gymnast not speaking up. It's important for a gymnast to feel safe communicating with her coach if she is scared, doesn't trust herself or her coach, or is feeling pain or fatigue.
Too often gymnasts are taught to stay silent and just "deal with it." If your gymnast is in an old-school coaching culture or a gym that prohibits gymnasts from speaking up, chances are she will not ask for help when she needs it. She might even try to muscle through skills instead of asking for a spot, for fear of being scolded or embarrassed.
When your gymnast feels like something is "off" but doesn't want to say anything, it can lead to her questioning herself. This then leads to a dip in confidence. She becomes more hesitant when doing her skills and this hesitancy can affect proper completion of her skills which can lead to injury.
At the end of the day, it's important that your gymnast take care of her body and her mental health in order to prevent injuries. While some injuries cannot be prevented, many of them can be. Understanding how stress can lead to injuries is a great reason for your gymnast to take care of her mental health. Communicating with her coach and you, is also important so that she can express her needs and get help in overcoming her doubts.
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