As gymnastics moms, you want to help your gymnast.
Maybe you were a gymnast yourself or perhaps you've never had any experience at all with gymnastics.
In either case, you want to see your gymnast succeed. You want to see her thrive in gymnastics and compete confidently. And most of all you want to see her happy and enjoying gymnastics.
As your gymnast progresses through the levels, it's easy for her to lose some of her passion. It's also easy for her to become frustrated as she's learning harder skills. Fear, doubt, and pressure start to get in the way.
Gymnastics not only gets increasingly more difficult as your gymnast progresses, it also becomes mentally challenging beyond what most gymnasts are capable of handling without support. <insert Stick It Girl Academy>
And because you recognize this, you try to help your gymnast by giving her advice or suggestions as to things she can do. Maybe you've been in her situation before and you have the answers. Or maybe you've had a very similar experience and you know what helped you get through that situation.
Well, here's the thing moms. Most of what you say is wrong. In fact, most of it isn't helpful to your gymnast and can even be more harmful to her.
Of course I say this in the most loving of ways because I know your intention is good. I know how much you love your gymnast and want what's best for her. And I know you'd do anything to help her get it.
So why is what you say to her wrong?
Because the way you speak to your gymnast matters. And if you say things that your gymnast perceives negatively, you will actually tip the scale to the negative side and make things even worse for your gymnast.
I know it sounds dramatic but I've worked with a lot of gymnasts and there are very few who actually like receiving advice from their moms. In fact, when I say few...I'm talking close to zero!
So how can you talk to your gymnast so that she doesn't shut you down?
The key is understanding what she needs in each phase of her journey.
BUT FIRST, GRAB THESE CONVERSATION STARTER PROMPT CARDS FOR A GREAT BONDING EXPERIENCE THAT TAKES YOU OFF THE HOOK!
Phase 1: After Practice
When you pick up your gymnast from gymnastics practice, I bet your natural inclination is to ask her tons of questions about it.
- "How did it go?"
- "What did you work on today?"
- "Did you work on your <insert skill> today?"
- "Did coach spot you?"
- "Did you do any routines?"
- "How did your wrists feel in practice?"
- "Are you tired?"
- "Are you hungry?"
Here's the thing though. Your gymnast just went through mental warfare. It's hard to explain this, especially if you were never a gymnast yourself, but gymnastics is mentally taxing.
Your gymnast is doing her best to keep her mind focused throughout practice. If she's been going through a mental block or coming back from injury then she's working extra hard. Or if she's a gymnast with low confidence then her negative self-talk has been eating away at her.
At the end of practice she is tired, both physically AND mentally.
And asking her tons of questions only puts more of a toll on her brain.
When you start firing those questions at her she goes into a fight-flight-or-freeze response which makes her shut down. She most likely doesn't want to talk at that moment. She needs to process what happened and let her body and mind calm back down to its non-alert state.
So what should you do?
Stay quiet, for the most part.
"Hi honey! Let's get you home so you can eat/rest/do homework/etc."
If your gymnast wants to talk, she will. She'll tell you all about practice if she has the brain power to do so.
The most important thing here is to remember that your gymnast isn't trying to be rude by shutting you out. She isn't doing it on purpose and by no means is she singling out you and deciding she doesn't like talking to you.
She's just processing her practice in a way that's important for her brain to do. And most gymnasts need silence in the car ride home in order to do this.
With that said, sometimes the best thing to do is to drive home in total silence which might even mean to turn off the music and keep your mouth shut unless your gymnast initiates conversation.
Phase 2: On The Way To Her Gymnastics Meet
The car ride to a gymnastics meet is one of the most nerve-wracking times for your gymnast.
If you have a nervous gymnast, then by nature she's working herself up thinking about her meet and everything that might go wrong.
In this moment, I hear most gymnastics moms offer some sort of "calming" advice.
"Take deep breaths. Everything will be fine." Or "You've been working hard for this. Don't worry about it so much."
Well, while you know everything will be fine, your gymnast doesn't necessarily feel that way in that particular moment.
So when you tell her that "everything will be fine" she is naturally going to shut your words out because they aren't helpful to her in that moment.
A strategy I like to teach my gymnastics moms is to come up with something to do for after her meet.
"Hey honey. Where should we go to eat/get ice cream after your meet? I was thinking that new sushi place that we've been wanting to try."
"After your meet, your cousins are coming over and we're going to watch <insert movie>."
This gives your gymnast something to look forward to after her meet and doesn't make her meet the "main event." What this does is take pressure off her because everything isn't riding on this one competition. Instead you have plans afterwards, which signifies to her brain that life moves on after her meet.
Also, if your gymnast has a pre-meet ritual such as doing some visualization work or listening to her positive affirmations or music that inspires her, then let her have that routine without you interjecting.
I think something many moms feel is that if they don't say something then they aren't being helpful to their gymnasts. It's like us moms are hard-wired to offer advice.
But the truth is, sometimes silence is what your gymnasts need most (or at least not hearing your advice). In fact, it's often in silence that your gymnasts can really just "be" and connect with who they know themselves to be (that confident gymnast).
When you put words or thoughts into her head, it can disconnect her from who she wants to be. Your relationship with her is loaded, even if you have a very good one. And her perceptions of herself are very much connected to who you believe she is.
When you arrive at her meet and you give her a final send-off, I think one thing that can be super helpful to your gymnast is reminding her that you love her no matter the outcome.
"I love watching you do gymnastics, no matter what happens out there today."
You never want to give her any last minute tips or remind her of her goals. Now is not the time for her brain to receive that.
Phase 3: During Her Gymnastics Meet
This is an interesting one because some gymnasts want something much different from their moms than their moms think they want.
It's common for most moms to be in the stands cheering their gymnasts on.
"Go Emma! You've got this."
But have you ever actually asked your gymnast:
1. If she even hears you when she's competing?
2. If she does hear you, are your words helpful to her in that moment?
Many of the gymnasts I work with would prefer their moms not to shout from the crowd. In fact, it makes many of them more nervous.
So this is one for you to ask your gymnast about.
"Emma, do you like when I cheer you on during your meet or would you like it better if I didn't say anything when you compete?"
And see what her perspective is.
A point I really want to make in this article is that the best thing you can give to your gymnast is what SHE needs and not what you think she needs.
Did you hear that?
It's not what you think she needs that she needs. It's what SHE actually needs from you.
Phase 4: After Her Gymnastics Meet
Remember how we talked about the car ride home after practice.
The same principles hold true for after her meet.
Don't offer feedback. Don't ask her about certain elements or routines.
A simple "You ready to go eat?" will be more than enough along with a great big hug.
You can de-brief her later on (i.e. talk about her routines) when watching back her routines later that day or the next day if that's something she wants to do.
But right after her meet she is again processing what happened. And her brain needs to let it all go for a little while.
Even if your gymnast had the best meet of her life, now is not the time to talk about how amazing her scores were!
Again, your focus as her mom should never be on the outcome. You should never talk about things she can't control and scores is one of those things.
Let yourself off the hook
One thing I always like to mention to moms is to think about Nellie Biles, Simone Biles' mom. From all portrayals of her, it was clear that she wasn't the typical gym mom. She didn't sit in the gym watching Simone practice. She wasn't dissecting her routines and chatting gymnastics with her 24/7. Instead, she had a career and was busy making everything work. She stepped in to talk to Simone's coaches when necessary, but otherwise took a back seat.
Simone clearly is one of the best gymnasts the world has ever seen. And it wasn't because her mom was pushing her, constantly chatting gymnastics with her, or giving her endless advice. Or at least that's not I gather from what I know about Nellie Biles.
The point is...your gymnast can succeed even if you aren't there pushing her along or trying to do all the things. So let yourself off the hook!
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that through all phases of your gymnast's training you should do what your gymnast really needs and not what you think she needs. Most of the time she doesn't need advice or suggestions. She needs silence and space so her brain can do its processing. Your gymnast also needs something to focus on after her meets so she doesn't get stuck on her meet being the end goal. When in doubt, ask your gymnast what she likes and doesn't like.
You've got this mama!
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