Big Thank-You to Guest Writer Mary Reiss Farias for this post. Please learn more about Mary and check out the free resources she shared on her website, linked at the end of this post.
We hear that “gymnastics is 90% mental” almost on a daily basis in the gymnastics world. It seems to be a mantra that everyone knows, cites, and accepts, but doesn’t do enough about in training. Why do we continually focus on more skill training, physical hours in the gym, flexibility, and strength, but do not focus much time on developing strong mental gymnastics? There are more reasons than the following, but I believe the following three represent a good start to bring the mental side of gymnastics into sharper focus.
Developing true mental toughness takes time and consistency.
Let’s face it; it is much more straightforward to come in to the gym and simply coach gymnastics technique. It is uncomplicated to coach the kid who can do everything physically, doesn’t seem to be scared, works hard, and doesn’t let the little things rattle her. Coaching robots is easy. The issue is, we don’t coach robots, and almost always, it’s the mental side that gets in the way of physical success. Teaching children how to face problems when they arise, how to establish and attain their goals, and how to remain focused and stay positive, takes time. Coaches must realize that life in the gym cannot simply be about repetition of routines and numbers of stuck landings; time in the gym must also be spent developing the mental side of gymnastics, and it must not be seen as time wasted. Rather, this time should be approached and appreciated as valuable lessons learned.
Many coaches coach how they were coached.
As human beings, we tend to do what we know. If our childhood coaches treated us like robots and pushed the physical over the mental, then that is what we know, and that is what we will do — unless, of course, we contemplate a better way. Minds need to be open to new ideas. Once again, if working on the mental side of gymnastics is seen as “wasting time,” or a burden, then there will always be a stigma associated with working to develop that side of the athlete. Teaching mental toughness is not a detriment, a punishment, or a limitation. Rather, as coaches, we should be excited that we get to teach our young athletes how to be stronger mentally, how to approach problems, and how to become problem-solvers.
The idea of what coaches are supposed to teach is too narrow.
Being a gymnastics coach is more than just teaching the progressions of the sport. A good coach understands that coaching a child in sport also means coaching a child in life. If a coach is open to knowing that part of her job is to help to develop the mental side of a gymnast, then she will be better equipped to aid in that development. If coaches are willing to bring awareness to these three things in their approach to coaching, then the mental side of gymnastics will automatically be appreciated. Coaches must be receptive and willing to work on the mental aspect of a gymnast’s training on a daily basis, as well as present new and innovative ways to help a gymnast through her mental setbacks and develop her problem-solving skills. These are the important life lessons that gymnastics coaches have the opportunity to share with their gymnasts, and these lessons truly last a lifetime.
Further Reading on Gymnastics Coaching for Mental Strength and Resilience
Ready to bring more focus onto the mental-aspects of gymnastics practice? Check out some of Mary's free downloadable resources:
We also recommend her blog post, A Blank Slate, about her decision to un-stick herself from a rut in coaching.
Mary Reiss Farias is the author of the Gym Rats children’s book series, and is the editor-in-chief of the Gym Rats Magazine. She was a successful gymnast for 17 years; she spent four years at level 10 and four years competing at the NCAA Division I level at the University of Arizona. She has been a coach for over 25 years, and owns Tucson Gymnastics Center with her husband. Their daughter is also a competitive gymnast.