You might be wondering what self-love has to do with gymnastics and why it's even an important mindset tool for gymnasts.
While the connection might not be immediately clear, without a doubt there IS an important connection that should not be overlooked and I'm going to tell you all about it in this article.
But first, have you ever noticed that this time of year all you hear about is self-love? In January and February the focus in our society is on love and self-care. A lot of that has to do with the Valentine's Day holiday in the US and the greater emphasis on love, both the giving and receiving of it.
For some people, all this talk about self-love might feel annoying and it can certainly seem extreme when it comes flooded with massive amounts of Valentines candy, chocolates, and teddy bears!
However I'm going to argue that as gymnasts we don't go crazy enough over self-love.
And it's not only this time of year that we lack that emphasis on self-love as gymnasts. It's throughout the entire year.
So what does self-love have to do with gymnastics?
That's a great question and I've got an answer for you.
Self-love is defined as having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. It's a critical component of having high self-esteem and self-worth.
And normally in most children and teens, it's a quality that is built up by various factors. Having successful experiences, feeling loved, and how they perceive the way their peers think of them are some ways self-love gets built up.
But in gymnastics, these sorts of factors tend to get negated through tough-love coaching methods, the constant experience of being judged, and the focus on perfection.
Let's dive into these a little more. Here are 3 reasons why self-love is important in gymnastics:
Reason #1: Many gymnastics coaches still adopt coaching methods that feel "harsh."
This comes from an old-school approach to coaching that is meant to toughen up gymnasts. While this method might have created champions, it's often said that gymnastics champions were made despite these harsh coaching methods rather than because of them.
Over 20 years ago I studied the sport psychology literature and wrote my thesis on effective coaching behaviors. There was/is a CLEAR correlation between positive coaching behaviors (positive reinforcement and rewards) and athletes' self-esteem in sport and a clear correlation between negative coaching behaviors and lowered self-esteem in athletes.
And yet, most coaches still use negative reinforcement and punishment as their method of choice. When gymnasts are constantly subjected to these tough-love practices, they learn to beat themselves up mentally. Each time this happens, they lose that sense of trust that is a vital component of self-love. They wonder what's wrong with them or why their coach doesn't like them.
Reason #2: Gymnasts are constantly getting their routines picked apart by coaches and judges.
Coaches tell gymnasts what they need to do each practice in order to "fix" their routines. "Point your toes, straighten your arms, tighter body, stick the landing" are all words screamed out by coaches as they try to help their gymnasts attain new skills and perfect them.
In addition, during competition judges stare at gymnasts and tell them, by way of a score, all the things they did wrong in that routine. Gymnasts go through routines with all eyes on them and wait to see what their score is! If you really think about it, it is any wonder that gymnasts feel good about themselves at the end of competition!
Whether a gymnast does her best or has the worst routines of her life, she is still being picked apart by other people. And these are not just any people. These are the people gymnasts hope to impress the most!
Reason #3: Gymnasts are being critiqued for their perfection, a standard they can never meet.
Perfection is a myth. It doesn't exist. And yet it's something every gymnast strives for.
Even in meets when gymnasts do their best and achieve a high score, it is still never perfect.
Gymnasts start to think "I did the best routine of my life and I still got deductions."
That standard of perfection is impossible and can become this burden that gymnasts have to carry with them. And for a gymnast who is already a perfectionist, this greater emphasis on perfection can lead her down a dark place that might include frequent mental blocks and unrealized dreams.
All of these reasons are reasons why it's absolutely CRUCIAL for gymnasts to spend time building up their self-love.
Self-love acts as a buffer that can help gymnasts face these unrealistic demands.
Gymnasts with higher amounts of self-love are better able to meet what life throws at them with resiliency and compassion. Instead of taking things to heart, they let those negative events bounce off them and don't take them so personally. When a coach yells at them, they are more likely to think "She must be having a bad day" rather than "She hates me."
So how can a gymnast build up her self-love?
I created a Self-Love Challenge download that is a perfect way for gymnasts to work through and build up their self-love. This is something that gymnasts can print out and do at home on their own to help them learn those crucial self-love skills.
Other ways gymnasts can build up self-love is to purposefully carve out time each day to work on self-love. That could be by a gymnast writing down things she loves about herself in a gratitude journal or by keeping a visual collage of all the things she loves in gymnastics and life.
Surrounding herself with things she loves is the best buffer against the negative events that lower a gymnast's sense of self-worth.
Like any skill, building up self-love takes time, practice, and consistency.
(I recently wrote an article for the Destira blog on this similar topic and I include 5 ways to help gymnasts build up their self-love. Go check out that article. I also talk about 5 ways coaches can help foster a sense of self-love in their gymnasts in the gym.)
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