When Your Gymnast's Problems Are Much Bigger Than Just Being There For Her

 

My heart always goes out to those of you who have a gymnast struggling with an ongoing problem in gymnastics.

Whether it's a mental block that's been on and off for months, an injury she's in the middle of rehabbing from, or a mean coach who keeps undermining your gymnast's confidence, struggles in gymnastics can feel really BIG and overwhelming for parents to navigate through. This is especially true when your gymnast is really suffering in some way.

My advice has always been to be there wholeheartedly for your gymnast with unconditional love, endless hugs, and a listening and sympathetic ear.

But what happens when that just isn't enough?

What happens when you've taken a backseat and allowed things to unfold but they're not getting any better...and your gymnast is just miserable. It's not that she necessarily wants to quit. Most don't. But gymnastics seems to be causing more pain than smiles these days and you wonder if any of this is worth it.

Here are some tips for how to get through this unsettling time when being a support system for your gymnast just doesn't feel like enough.

1. Control What You Can Control and Let The Rest Go

First, please remember that while it feels like you are helpless in this situation you never are. I teach my gymnasts in the Stick It Girl Academy to focus on what they CAN control in every situation, instead of focusing on the things they have no control over. Often, as parents, we tend to put our focus on what we can't control when it comes to our gymnast's journey.

We can't control our gymnast's emotions and yet we worry about them endlessly.

We can't control whether our gymnast has a good day in the gym or not, and yet we pray over and over that she finally has a good day.

We can't control whether our gymnast will get through her struggles that day, and yet we worry about her struggles until we feel sick in the stomach (or make our gymnast have a panic attack from all the questions we ask her about it).

So what can you control as her parent?

Your own thoughts about your gymnast's situation, your own emotions, your own responses to your gymnast's reactions, and what you choose to focus your time and energy on (just to name a few).

So while you can't control what's happening with your gymnast in the gym, you CAN control how you think about it. Are you seeing your gymnast as a victim or as the victor? Are you choosing to focus on how terrible the situation is for her or are you empowering her with your own positive thoughts of how she is strong and can overcome this?

Your gymnast picks up on these little cues and they can influence her thoughts about herself.

What else can you control?

Your own emotions. Are you angry at the coach every time your gymnast comes out of the gym after being forced to sit out that event because she didn't throw her skill that day? Are you sad when you see your gymnast breaking down into tears for the 100th time after practice? 

Emotions, while incredibly strong and powerful, are a choice. Your emotions come from your thoughts about the situation. If you are finding your emotions to be big and not helpful, then it's time to change the way you are thinking about your gymnast's situation. 

Mad that coach keeps kicking your gymnast off the event? Set up a meeting and talk to the coach about what you'd like to see instead. 

Sad when you see your gymnast come into the car in tears after practice? Reframe it. Think thoughts like "she's working through her emotions - that's a good thing" instead of "how many times do I have to watch her suffer?"

While these are tiny shifts in thoughts and behaviors, they will make all the difference in how your gymnast feels you perceive her. And at the same time it will help you realize that you do have control in this situation.

 

2. Consider Switching Gyms

I often get pushback from parents when I ask about switching gyms. For some families, it's not a possibility given they live in a rural area and the nearest next gym is hours away. For others, it's a choice. They've often justified in many ways why this gym or coach is the best for their gymnast (despite all the evidence proving otherwise).

But one thing I know for sure as a parent is that if a coaching or gym climate is not going to help my child grow and develop positive traits, then it's not the place for my child.

Gymnastics might be a "tough" sport but it shouldn't be an abusive one. "Toughness" can be learned in many ways that doesn't involve being scolded, ignored, emotionally abused, not having needs met, being brushed off, being made to feel not as good as, feelings dismissed, etc. 

Regardless of how "good" a gym might be, it is NEVER acceptable in my opinion to put up with less than stellar coaches. And by that I mean coaches who aren't trained in positive coaching techniques or don't have communication skills that foster a positive environment.

It is NEVER ok for your gymnast to be kicked off an event for not being able to do a skill she has a mental block on. It is NEVER ok for your gymnast to be screamed at in the gym for any reason. It is NEVER ok for your gymnast to be punished when she can't do something.

At the end of the day, remember you are the paying client. You are PAYING your coach to train your gymnast. If what you are receiving involves belittling your gymnast or causing her to have self-esteem issues, then you are in the wrong place. Period.

Coaches can literally make or break a gymnast's spirit. If you reach out for support and constantly get shut down or feel like "It's coach's way or the highway" then you need to seriously consider finding a new gym.

While it can be a scary decision and there are a lot of "what-ifs" that come along with it (what-if I can't find anything better or what-if the new gym is worse), the risk is worth it for the reward. Think about how happy your gymnast could be when she's in a place where she's treated with respect and met with support.

 

Stick It Girl Academy

3. Take A Break From Gymnastics

I'm going to say it right now. It's ok to take a break from gymnastics!

There's always such a big fear that your gymnast will get behind or get off track. But there's so much more to continuing to improve in gymnastics than just being in the gym. If your gymnast's mental and emotional health isn't in the right place, then no amount of physical training will get her where she needs to be.

And sometimes a break is what she needs.

This might be taking that two-week vacation you've been putting off because you didn't want your gymnast to miss that much practice.

Or it might be taking a season off of gymnastics to explore other sports or take a break entirely from doing any sport or activity.

Don't be afraid to take time away.

If your gymnast really misses gymnastics, then that's a good thing. It means she really loves it and that her heart is still in it.

If your gymnast seems happier out of the gym then maybe it's time for her to move on from gymnastics.

Sometimes just having that breathing room, that time to think about something other than gymnastics, is all your gymnast needs.

Let's be real...gymnastics is an all-consuming sport for both gymnast and parents! 

A little break can be healthy and needed, especially during a season of hard.

4. Get Your Gymnast The Mental Health She Needs

As a mental performance coach who works with only gymnasts, I see many gymnasts who struggle with mental blocks and a lack of confidence. But sometimes I see gymnasts whose issues are much deeper than that.

Many have a low sense of self-worth. They've been beaten down for so long that they've forgotten that they're good at anything or that their opinions matter.

Others are going through hard transitions in their lives (moving to new schools, transitioning to middle or high school, etc) and puberty is setting in. This creates literal changes in the brain structure of these gymnasts and their thoughts and emotions can feel too big to handle.

So in some cases, your gymnast needs a mental health counselor or therapist to help her get through this tough time in her life. Trust your gut as her parent and if you feel like your gymnast needs more help, then seek it out.

Be sure you are always thinking big picture when it comes to your gymnast's emotional and mental health and seeking out services that can help her be the best version of herself possible. 

Also, it's worth mentioning that sometimes you need to get the mental health support you need as well. As a parent you hold onto so much for your gymnast and can keep those feelings and stress bottled up inside. Having someone you can talk to about what's going on can help you cope better with these hard times.

5. Find a New Perspective

When you're in the midst of a challenging time, it can feel overwhelming. And it can feel like it will last forever. Sometimes you start to forget about life before this crisis came into play. 

But chances are, there were other struggles in your gymnast's life before this current struggle. Sometimes thinking back and remembering how far your gymnast has come can give you a new perspective that can help you feel better.

Look back at videos of your gymnast when she first started gymnastics. Then watch her progression through the years and remember how much she has learned! 

Think about past struggles she went through along the way and how those felt SO big at the time too. 

Then remember how you moved through those moments in time. What strategies were helpful then? Are there resources you used back then that might be helpful now? What things have you forgotten about that you leaned into back then that you might be able to try again now?

At the same time, try to remember that you've all overcome hard situations before. And that as hard as this situation might feel right now, it won't last forever. Eventually things will change.

Sometimes you might be in a season of "Buckle up; it's going to be a bumpy ride" and you just have to ride it out. And that's ok! Not all seasons of gym have to be the best. Some can be learning opportunities. Others can be rebuilding years. And others can be confidence-building years. It's alright to take a few steps back in order to take more steps forward in the future.

 

While watching your gymnast struggle and feel helpless to do anything can be gut-wrenching, always remember that your job is to focus on controlling what you CAN control as her parent. It's not your job to control your gymnast's behavior nor the behavior of her coach. It's your job to focus on what IS within your own control such as your own attitude, emotions, and behaviors.

As hard as it may be, sometimes switching gyms is the right option in that moment as is taking a break from gymnastics. When you've been going through a season of hard for a long time it can take its toll on both you and your gymnast. Instead of always pushing through, sometimes it's ok to take some time off from the "hard" and approach it in a few weeks through a fresh lens.

Also, if your gymnast is struggling mentally and emotionally, sometimes it's more than what a mental performance coach can handle. She might need professional mental counseling help that can address some underlying issues of lack of self-worth or unhealthy thought patterns that are affecting the way she feels about herself.

Finally, taking a new perspective and reflecting back on how far your gymnast has come can help you feel a little relief from the situation. When you remember that "hard" won't last forever and that your gymnast has already overcome so many hard things in her life, it can help you feel more positive about your current situation.

 

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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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