This month, we want to focus on helping your gymnasts learn to “Enjoy the Journey.”
In the middle of competition season, so many gymnasts focus so hard on their performance and their results, what others think of them and how they compare that they are miserable for much of the experience. Or they are feeling a roller coaster depending on how they do. It’s not uncommon to start seeing mental blocks on skills they know they can do as a result. But it doesn’t have to be this way. So let’s take a look this month at the different things that steal the opportunity to enjoy the journey and how you can help your gymnasts begin to think differently.
#1 Scores, medals and results don’t make them feel anything.
During meet season, your gymnasts’ joy in their gymnastics usually follows how they did at the last practice or the last meet.
If they did well, they feel great.
If they didn’t do well, they feel frustrated or disappointed.
But their feelings are never coming from the circumstances or the results. Their feelings are ALWAYS created by their thoughts. It’s what they make their results mean that creates their emotions around them. They look to you and to the world around them to define what meet results mean.
But you can influence that. Here are some helpful things to talk about.
Scores and medals are just a point of data. And they tend to fluctuate from meet to meet. (You may need to explain why – that judges have a range they can use for each deduction, different teams they are competing against, etc). Scores help you know what you want to work on to keep improving. But they don’t decide if you are or aren’t a good gymnast. No result will ever truly help you believe that. Or make you feel proud of yourself. Those beliefs can only come from within.
When you start believing that you get to decide if you are a good gymnast and if you are proud of yourself, you will enjoy meets a lot more. And in fact, being proud of yourself and believing you are a good gymnast is the fuel you need to actually create winning results and enjoy the journey.
#2: Success is only found through failing. Falling is not fun, but it is fine.
What is the first thing you teach a young gymnast when they start to learn gymnastics?
How to fall safely.
Because we all know that for sure, a gymnast is going to fall. And so we prepare them for it. And yet, we (and they) still think something has gone wrong when they do. Teaching your gymnast that falling is fine is the most effective way to help them hit consistently. Because it is usually when a gymnast is feeling pressure or anxiety that they might fall or mess up, that they fall. And when they feel calm and centered because they believe that it is ok to make mistakes and fail, that they are solid.
A few things that help here.
When your gymnast tells themselves not to fall, ALL they think about is falling. I tell them, don’t think about a purple polka-dotted zebra. And of course thats all they think about. Their brain doesn’t know how to not fall.
But their brain can follow specific instructions about what to do. So when they start thinking about falling, telling their brain – it’s ok, everyone falls. But let’s think about this instead. And then focus on key words, technique and mental choreography.
#3: They can’t control how their coaches, parents or teammates feel.
The third thing that really causes a gymnast not to enjoy meet season is worrying about what others are going to think. And more specifically, what her coaches, parents or teammates will think. She is usually most worried about disappointing them. Or that they will think she is not a good gymnast. This worry weighs her down. And keeps her from focusing on her actual gymnastics. Letting her know again and again that you are proud of her no matter what happens at a meet is vital. But there are some other things that can help as well.
Teach them that all people’s feelings come from their own thoughts. And it is absolutely impossible to control someone else’s thoughts. If a coach, teammate or parent feels disappointed, it is because of their own thoughts. And try as hard as you will, you can never control another person’s thoughts. You can only control your own.
So stop focusing on something that is impossible for you.
Let them be in charge of their thoughts and feelings. And you be in charge of yours. And if either of you feel disappointed, that is 100% ok. Disappointment is a natural feeling in life. Especially when you go after goals. It is just part of the process and not something to be avoided.
#4: Their Journey is Unique
The last thing that steals your gymnasts opportunity to enjoy the journey is comparison and jealousy.
Your gymnasts spend a lot of time looking around. At their teammates, other teams, scores, and judges. They try to determine their own worth, worthiness and lovability based on how they compare to others. This means they feel good about themselves if they are better than others (but usually feel negative or judgmental toward the other person). And bad about themselves if they think they are not as good.
This means that on both ends of the spectrum, they are feeling negative emotion. And there is nothing about it that will serve them. And it for sure won’t help your team thrive as a whole. So this is what we teach them.
Human beings are herd animals. Sounds weird, right? But we are, we are meant to live our life with others in a group. And for much of human history, being thrown out of the group or the herd, meant death. If the group didn’t like you anymore, if you did something wrong or if you weren’t good enough to stay in it, you might get thrown out. And you couldn’t survive on your own.
So your brain is wired to constantly evaluate your standing in the group. To make sure you aren’t going to get thrown out. The thing is, that is no longer the world we live in. How we stack up to other people, if they like us, if we are good enough, is no longer a life or death situation. But your brain still thinks it is.
So the first step is just recognizing that the reason your brain is freaking out is because it thinks it is in danger. It is not. But that comparison, always seeing how you stack up against others, almost always leads to emotions that feel terrible. And steal your joy in your gymnastics journey.
So you want to direct your brain to something that feels much more enjoyable. To work on seeing that your journey is actually unique. And it honestly doesn’t have anything to do with another person’s journey.
How fast your progress, how you score, how you practice, how you perform are yours uniquely.
It genuinely has NOTHING to do with anyone else.
The desire to win, to be the best can be great fuel if it comes from a positive emotion. But when comparing yourself to others just leads to negative emotion, it is never going to fuel the performance and actions you need to get the results you want.
Your brain constantly wants to compare.
You just need to supervise it, and remind it that your journey is unique.
Then you can actually ENJOY THE JOURNEY!
Article written by Gym Mindset Academy
For more, check out the Going for Gymnastics Gold podcast where we cover these topics in depth each week for coaches in our Conversations for Coaches episodes. You can also check out the Gym.Mindset.Academy Instagram for weekly help this month on teaching your gymnasts these mindset principles and helpful ways you can implement it out on the floor.