Self-talk is one of the most important tools for improving gymnastics.
This article contains a FREE PRINTABLE
You've probably heard of the term self-talk before.
If not, it's basically what it sounds like - it's the way a gymnast talks to herself in her mind.
When your gymnast says positive and encouraging words to herself (positive self-talk), this can help her overcome challenges, become more confident, and feel good about her abilities.
On the other hand, if your gymnast is using negative words (negative self-talk), this can make her feel incompetent, have lower self-worth, and be more likely to give up when challenges arise.
Unfortunately many gymnasts are stuck in a pattern of negative self-talk which can spiral into a continuous habit of using negative words when they are faced with a challenging situation.
So how do we change this and improve a gymnast's self-talk?
Here are 3 Steps to Using and Improving Self-Talk to Help Your Gymnastics
Step 1: Be Aware of What You Are Saying To Yourself
This step is perhaps the most obvious and yet something that often gets overlooked. In order to change and improve your self-talk in gymnastics, you must first recognize what you are saying to yourself both during positive and negative events.
When you are in a high pressure situation and make a mistake, such as at a meet, do you say things like "Stupid, how could you fall on that easy skill?" <negative self-talk> or do you say things like "Everyone makes mistakes - just concentrate on the rest of your routine" <positive self-talk>?
When you've just had a great routine or learned a new skill, are you equally as positive? Do you say things like "Yes, you worked hard for that. Great job."
Or do you say things like "That was an easy skill. Anyone could have learned that?"
Remember, self-talk is important in both positive and negative situations because it reflects an internal dialogue that influences your self-esteem.
However, for the purposes of this exercise we are going to focus on the times when you have made a mistake (negative situation).
If you aren't immediately sure of what words you say to yourself during these situations, it makes sense to keep a log or journal to keep track of your thoughts.
You can use a simple notebook to jot down the words you say to yourself. Just be sure to write those words down as soon after the situation as you can so you don't forget what you said.
Step 2: Stop The Negative Thoughts In Their Track
If you are using negative self-talk in gymnastics, it's time to stop those thoughts with something we call thought stopping.
This is when you think of an image that signals a strong stop to you.
It doesn't have to be anything fancier than a big stop sign but some gymnasts have used the image of big brick wall or a hand in the face to signify STOP in their minds. In my FREE worksheet I give you a big image of a stop sign for you to print out.
The image should be something that comes to mind easily so simpler is better.
Now that you have this image of something that means STOP to you, your goal is to think of this image the next time you catch yourself saying something negative to yourself.
If you've fallen at a meet and find yourself saying negative thoughts, once you recognize that you are saying these thoughts you would then imagine this STOP image in your mind.
You might even say the word STOP in your head or out loud.
Your goal would be to immediately counteract these negative thoughts with more positive ones which we'll talk about in the next step.
But don't be surprised if you imagine your STOP image and then your mind immediately goes back into your negative thought pattern again.
If that happens, just imagine your STOP image again.
You may have to do this many times before you feel those negative thoughts fizzle out.
Step 3: Replace The Negative Thought with Something More Positive
This is perhaps the hardest of all steps because it requires you to shift your mental thoughts against your current habit of thought.
But stick with it.
This is also a step that will not happen unless you practice these positive thoughts ahead of time.
In order to practice these thoughts ahead of time we suggest that you write down 5 positive self-talk thoughts that you could say to yourself in a situation when you have a negative response.
These should be believable and feel better to you than your original negative thought.
For example, if you say "That was a terrible routine" you could replace it with something like "I'll try harder on my next routine."
It shouldn't be a big positive statement such as "I'm the best gymnast here" because that's probably not believable to you in that moment.
Rather you want something that feels slightly better than your negative statement that you believe.
Again, you should practice these 5 positive self-talk phrases ahead of time so you memorize them and can draw from them in the negative gymnastics moment.
If you haven't practiced them it will be much harder for you to recall these positive statements when you need them.
These are the 3 steps needed to use your self-talk to your benefit in gymnastics.
First you must recognize the thoughts you are currently thinking after you experience a negative event in gymnastics.
Then you need to use your STOP image in your mind to remind yourself to stop those negative thoughts.
Finally you would say more positive thoughts to yourself in that moment, ones that you have practice ahead of time.
Self-talk is a powerful tool in gymnastics and can improve a gymnast's performance if used effectively.
It makes sense that this is a skill that your gymnast should practice and put down as a potential tool in her mental skills toolbox.
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