It has been said life is equal parts what happens to us and how we process what happens to us.
I think that is very true in gymnastics. The attitudes and beliefs that a gymnast has about herself and the sport will inevitably shape how long she participates, or at least how happy she is while she is involved.
Here are nine beliefs that inevitably lead to a less than stellar gymnastics experience:
- I must be perfect. While pursing excellence is a worthy goal, perfectionism takes that pursuit and couples it with hypercritical self-evaluation and an unhealthy concern with the opinion of others. Perfectionists will either give up if they feel that they are not capable of achieving their goals least they risk failure and embarrassment. Or, perfectionists will toil causing them to fall into a depression if they do not reach a goal or deprive them happiness even if they do. Chase picture-perfect execution but don’t tie your self-worth to achieving it.
- I must make constant progress. The idea that progress is a perfectly sloped line leads so many people to abandon worthy goals. Progress is messy—three steps forward and two back is still progress. Gymnastics is not like school; you don’t necessarily move a level each year of your participation. Patience and persistence in the face of dips and plateaus is what allows people to achieve their goals. Understanding that failure is a normal part of the feedback loop is vital.
- There is only one path to success. Obstacles are an inevitable part of any rode we take. If we believe that there is only one route to get us to our destination, we are stuck when hit that obstacle. Flexible thinking and creative problem solving are skills that will benefit your athlete both in and out of the gym.
- My talent is key to my destiny. Talent is overrated. Deliberate practice, which is something anyone can do, matters more than you think. If you rest on your talented laurels, eventually you will peter out. If you tell yourself your lack of talent means you cannot achieve at a high level, you will talk yourself out of finding out how good you could be.
- I am a chicken/a baby/lazy (or insert other derogatory name here). One of the fastest ways to drive an athlete out of the gym is to allow her to buy into a negative self-identity. A gymnast might be scared, but that does not make her a “chicken.” She might be emotional, but that does not make her a “baby.” And simply because she is having a hard time with her motivation, she isn’t lazy.
- Competition results are the measure of my achievement. If success is measured in relation to others, we are likely to get discouraged before we know how good we can be. Using others’ achievements as the measure of our own progress does not allow us to see our own progress.
- If I am not going to be an Olympian or earn a scholarship, there is no point in doing gymnastics. If there is a singular definition of success, particularly if that definition is something that only an infinitesimal percentage of people achieve, the athlete is setting herself up for failure. Furthermore, a single outcome definition of “the point” of participating in a sport misses the wonderful lessons, experiences and joys that being an athlete brings to a young person’s life. There are so many reasons for kids to participate in a sport like gymnastics that have nothing to do with the Olympics or scholarships.
- I must excel in gymnastics for my parents to love me. While there are very few parents who fall into this category, there is a substantial minority whose behaviors might lead their child to believe that this statement is true. Parents, please reassure your child routinely that you love her whether or not she perform well or at all. You might think she already knows this, and maybe she does. But just in case, it cannot hurt to remind her!
- I cannot succeed without my coach/my best friend/my lucky plush dog etc. While coaches play a critical role in athletes’ development, having a close bond with teammates is wonderful and even having a good luck charm can help a gymnast to feel more confident, in the last analysis, a gymnast needs to know that she is able to rely on herself to adapt to whatever changes that may occur to work toward her goals. Coaches leave coaching, teammates leave the sport and good luck charms get lost; you are your only constant in the equation that is your life. If your career is long enough, there will be some wrenches thrown into the path you are on, and in order to navigate successfully you have to have the flexibility and confidence that it will be okay.
Our beliefs are our anchors and our compasses. They both ground us and guide us through our lives. Therefore we need to be careful about what we believe because the story we tell ourselves is one that effects us deeply. The more emotionally flexible we are in how we think about what happens to us, the better off we are in all that we do, both in the gym and beyond.
Credit: Jag Gym, Anne Josephson
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