It is no question that positive self-talk can help gymnasts perform better and feel better about their abilities. Self-talk refers to the words a gymnast says to herself either in her head or out loud. If these words are positive, they can help a gymnast overcome many an obstacle and help her stay motivated. But if these words are negative, they can reinforce low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
While we tend to think of positive self-talk as phrases such as "I can do this" or "I can handle anything that comes my way" there is another type of self-talk that is just as effective in certain instances. That's self-talk that starts with the word "maybe."
You might hear the word "maybe" and think it's a wishy-washy word. How can it be helpful to my gymnast? After all, it typically reflects an indecision of some sort or an uncertainty in one's abilities. It's neither here nor there and definitely not as motivating as positive "I can" statements.
In most cases you'd be right. However, there are some instances when "maybe" is actually more positive than self-talk that the gymnast doesn't really believe in.
When a gymnast is low in confidence and is feeling nervous to do a skill and says things like "I can do this" but doesn't actually believe she can, then saying "I can do this" is not an effective tool.
In some ways it can be counter-effective because she is saying she can do something and then is unable to do it, making her more likely not to trust herself or her abilities. While it might seem better than her saying "I'll never get this" to herself (negative self-talk) it can actually be just as detrimental to say something that's positive that she doesn't believe in.
So in situations where gymnasts are low on confidence and need a boost of positivity, the secret sauce for them might be to use the word "maybe."
Let's go back to the example of the gymnast trying to do a skill. If she tries to do it and falls, instead of saying "I can do it" and then trying again when she doesn't believe she can actually do it, the best thing she can do in that moment is tell herself a "maybe" story.
What Is A "Maybe" Story
A "maybe" story goes like this:
"Maybe I'm really tired today. That's ok. I'll try again tomorrow when I have more energy."
"Maybe today is not my day. I'll be better tomorrow."
"Maybe I had a long day and just couldn't focus. I'll get a good night of sleep tonight and be ready for tomorrow's practice."
This "maybe" acts as a buffer and gives her a reason why she didn't get that skill that isn't just "I'm not good enough." It can actually protect her self-esteem which is a very good thing.
So if your gymnast is struggling on a skill in gymnastics, instead of only teaching her about positive self-talk, teach her that sometimes it's alright not to feel so confident. But that she can use the word "maybe" to tell herself a better-feeling story in that moment.
The bottom line is that gymnasts must have a solid belief system in place in order to learn and perform difficult gymnastics tricks. That belief system starts with them trusting themselves. Faking it or saying words they don't believe in will continue to limit their confidence. But dialing it back a notch and saying things they believe in that still feel better than the negative is a great strategy for when a gymnast just can't seem to get a skill.
Remember, it's not the words themselves that matter. It is the feeling behind them.
Good luck! And let us know in the comments - what is one "maybe" story that might help your gymnast given what she's currently struggling on?
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