There’s no doubt that gymnastics is a beneficial sport that teaches children how to get stronger in their bodies but also develop the mental toughness skills to persevere when faced with a challenge. Gymnasts who are part of a competitive team also get the benefit of being able to bond with their teammates and feel what it’s like to belong to a gym “family.” It is experiences like these that make gymnastics a popular sport of choice for many families with young children.
But, despite all the benefits of gymnastics, one aspect that is often missing in gymnastics instruction is the practice of how to be a good teammate. When a group of gymnasts join a competitive team, we automatically assume that they’ll treat one another with kindness and respect. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In fact, many gymnasts are young girls who are still navigating the social waters of adolescence and there’s a lot for them to learn about social graces. Gossip, the pressures of societal standards, stressors at school and home, and any other number of things can cloud their judgment in the gym and make them act in a way that is less than ideal as a teammate.
As a result, we felt it important to put together some tips for how to help your gymnast learn how to be a good teammate. Bottom line is that your gymnast will take your lead so setting a good example of being a kind and respectful gym parent will set the tone for her and give her a starting point for how to behave around her teammates. But these qualities must not only be modeled by adults, but also talked about and reinforced on a consistent basis, both in and out of the gym.
It is also our hope that coaches can take these tips and help to implement them with their gymnasts. At the end of the day our goal is to help gymnasts develop into good people who have heart, cheer on their teammates, and hustle hard because those are the teammates who will inspire other members of their team to be better gymnasts and people.
Without further ado, here are 5 ways to help your gymnast be a good teammate.
Tip 1: Teach her how to be humble
There are always going to be the superstars on every team and your gymnast might be it for her team. But it’s important to teach gymnasts that even though they might be better at gymnastics than everyone else, they need to learn how to be humble about their success around their teammates. Sure, we hope that all teammates will be proud of a superstar gymnast for being so good at gymnastics, but some gymnasts (especially those struggling themselves) might have trouble feeling happy for their rockstar teammate because it reminds her of how far she still has to go.
So instead of showing off and bragging about her success, a good teammate will be humble in front of her teammates. It’s not wrong for a gymnast to be proud of her success and to feel good about it. In fact, it’s an important component of self-love. She just needs to tone it down in the gym and especially during competition so that she sets a good example for others.
According to a NY Times article, Simone Biles’ parents, Ron and Nellie, continuously emphasized that for Simone to continue to be successful, she needed to remain humble. “Simone is not the type of person to go around saying that she wants to win the gold medal, because that’s thinking too much of yourself and giving yourself too much credit,” Nellie Biles said. “I always tell her, ‘You never know what’s going to happen.’ If doing her best means she will come out on top, that’s awesome. If it means she’ll finish fourth, that’s awesome, too.”
Take it from the most gifted gymnast to ever compete, being humble is an important quality for a gymnast to have and one that makes any gymnast stand out as a teammate. As a parent or coach, you can help your gymnast develop humility by pointing out instances when she does something that shows that she’s humble such as thanking her teammate for her help in practice or congratulating her on a new skill learned. Constantly reinforcing this humble behavior in your gymnast is the way to go.
Tip 2: Teach her how to have respect
Respect is an important trait to develop in a child but more so when she’s on a team. A good teammate will show respect for her coaches, teammates, parents, adults, judges, competitors, and anyone else she encounters in the gym. She will also show respect for the gym facility itself and any of the other facilities she visits for competition.
Respect can come in many different forms. It can come in the form of listening when her coach is talking, cleaning up garbage she sees in the gym locker room, talking kindly about her coaches and teammates, listening to and acknowledging judges during competition, keeping her noise level down when walking in the hotel hallways for competition, and keeping negative comments about others to herself. These are just a few examples of how a good teammate shows respect, but the list can go on and on.
Another important aspect of having respect is being a good sport. Good sportsmanship is a quality that a good teammate has because it shows that she has heart and grace even amidst defeat. These are traits that you’d want your teammate to have because they emulate how important it is to focus on the things that she can control in a meet instead of things she can’t control such as her scores or how well her competitors did. It can be downright frustrating for gymnasts to receive scores that feel lower than they think they earned. Couple that with a fall or another mishap and it takes everything a gymnast has to keep herself together. But being a sore loser is not a trait you want to see in your teammate because it focuses on the wrong aspect of gymnastics and takes the fun out of it.
Instead, you’d want to see a teammate with self-respect. This means she models how to treat herself kindly when she’s made a mistake and gives herself grace when she’s done less than her best. This sort of self-respect comes from self-love which is something that every gymnast should have more of and definitely something a good teammate would strive to have.
To teach respect to your gymnast, constantly model this behavior for her. Watch your own words and make sure you are showing respect to those around you. Also, help her understand that being a good teammate means respecting that gymnastics is a sport that is meant to be done for fun and that at the end of the day, scores don’t matter. Its her attitude, progress, and effort that make a difference.
Tip 3: Teach her to be optimistic
No one loves the teammate who complains all the time because she brings down the whole team. The teammate who rolls her eyes and complains about conditioning or the one who gives half her effort on purpose because she’s bored or doesn’t feel like trying brings the entire team down. Other gymnasts on her team see her behaviors and learn that those behaviors are okay to do and might possibly emulate them. The last thing we want is a gymnast who influences her teammates to feel or do negative things. It’s a bad scenario for the team and can bring the entire morale of the team down.
On the flip side, a gymnast who is constantly seeing the bright side or tackling new challenges head on is an inspiration to her teammates and can lift up the entire team’s spirits. Teach your gymnast that even if things seem gloomy or hard, she can choose to meet them with a positive attitude. Sure, there will be days when she’s feeling down and won’t feel like being optimistic. On days like these you can teach her that it’s okay to be quiet and to keep her negative thoughts to herself when in the gym. Obviously it’s important for her to discuss her feelings but best to do so at home or with friends after practice is over.
One way to help your gymnast develop optimism is to have her keep a daily gratitude log and to write the things she is thankful for each day. This practice will help her increase her feelings of gratitude which will change the way she approaches gymnastics practice. She’ll start to look for all the good things around her instead of complaining about the bad things.
Tip 4: Teach her to be supportive and encouraging to her teammates
It’s easy for a gymnast to be a good teammate when her friends are doing well in gymnastics and she can tap into the positive energy around her to cheer them on. But what about when her teammate is having a rough time? What about when her teammate is dealing with a mental block that’s been going on for months and she’s incredibly frustrated and down on herself? What about when her teammate just fell and it cost her or her team a medal? It’s not as easy to be supportive or encouraging then, but that’s when it counts most. And this is something a good teammate knows.
Similarly, when a gymnast is learning new skills and having a difficult time, a good teammate will help that gymnast through it. We can teach gymnasts to say encouraging phrases to their teammates like the ones below that emphasize their efforts and positive qualities:
“You’ve got this.”
“You’ve been training hard, it will come.”
“I believe in you.”
“I’ve always admired your grit.”
“You can take on any challenge.”
We can also teach gymnasts that although they themselves might be disappointed in their teammate’s performance, their teammate is even more disappointed in herself. So adding insult to injury is never an appropriate way to act out towards another. Plus, bad mouthing, name calling, and gossip about a teammate is unacceptable as a member of a team.
It’s also important that as a parent or coach that you model this good behavior. Set up situations where gymnasts can support one another whether it’s by going to a teammate’s fundraiser or birthday party or attending team parties or events. The closer your gymnast feels to her teammates, the better the chances are that she will be supportive and encouraging of her teammates.
Tip 5: Teach her to be resilient
Resilience and grit have become popular topics in recent years and for good reason. Gymnasts who will succeed in gymnastics must have the ability to bounce back after defeat and the ability to keep going despite setbacks. These are qualities that a good teammate would exhibit, not only because they will help her herself succeed, but because they will motivate other teammates to be resilient too.
One of the most inspiring things is to watch a teammate who gives her all and never quits on herself or her team. In fact, a good teammate helps her team realize that failures are opportunities to grow and try again. Instead of making excuses, she finds solutions. And these are all qualities that can rub off on an entire team.
To teach your gymnast to be resilient, help her focus on the things she can control in gymnastics such as her effort and her attitude. Talk about how scores can be subjective so that she should set personal goals that are independent of her score. In our Mindset Meet Journal we have gymnasts reflect on different aspects of their meet which are things they have control over and can improve in the future.
In sum, a good teammate is humble, shows respect, is optimistic, supports and encourages her teammates, and demonstrates traits of resilience and grit. While we’d hope that all gymnasts will be good teammates by their own will, it’s important to recognize that these are traits that need to be developed and supported in our gymnasts.