I have been working on a new project for gym owners that lets gymnasts track their skills over the last several months. In the process of talking with gym owners and other people about this project, inevitably the conversation leads to questions like why do you think this is important, and why are you doing this.
My response is usually something to the effect that I love gymnastics and I think it’s a great sport for children to gain confidence and to be able to feel good about accomplishing their goals. It did that for me, and I saw it do that for kids I coached and for gymnasts that I judged.
So in keeping with my over-arching goal with this website and my new project, of helping kids to feel good and have a positive experience with gymnastics, I started to think about the questions we ask our gymnasts. I am not a parent, so I don’t have any experience in that department. Instead, I started to do a little research in order to come up with questions to ask gymnasts that help them feel good about the sport.
Want a PDF cheat sheet with the 12 questions listed below?
Focus on the Process
In John O’Sullivan’s book, Changing the Game, he emphasizes how it’s important to focus on the process and not the outcome. For gymnasts, having the goal to medal at the next meet is a goal that is out of their control. Yes, they can prepare and do the best job that they can, but they have no control over how well the other gymnasts will do at the meet. But, if their goal is instead to focus during practice and to do 10 routines each day then this goal is in their control. They can then measure that the goal is complete and feel good about meeting it.
O’Sullivan also says:
“Research has found that parents who try to ensure success often raise unsuccessful kids. Your child has a far greater chance of success if he focuses on preparation, effort and enjoyment.”
So one way to do this is to make sure that questions focus on the process, and not the outcome.
One other thought that follows the idea of focusing on the process, is to praise the effort that goes into the
process. O’Sullivan says:
” Praising effort works because it gives credence to the baby steps, the difficulty, the determination that constitutes the learning process. “
He points out that making sure the athlete’s effort is praised ensures that they feel loved regardless of the outcome. So that if a gymnast works hard but she falls on beam at a meet, which knocks her out of the all-around contention, she doesn’t feel any less loved than at a meet where she stays on the beam and medals in the all-around.
On the Ride Home
O’Sullivan mentions in his book that athletes need time to digest and recover physically and emotionally after a competition. So on the ride home is not the time to ask detailed questions about their performance, or their teams’.
- Did you have fun? Since I’m sure every parent wants their kids to be having fun most of the time when they are participating in a sport, this is a great question to ask. You can follow it up with “I love watching you do gymnastics”.
According to this article, based on psychological research, the statement kids most want to hear their parents say about their performance in sports is “I love to watch you play.”
Goal Oriented Questions
One way to make sure that gymnasts’ get the most out of the sport of gymnastics, is by setting goals. Here are some questions that you can ask your gymnast to help them set goals.
2. What skills do you want to learn this summer? The summer time is when many new skills are learned, and then they are perfected during the competition season. It’s helpful to have a goal of what skills your gymnast is excited about learning.
3. What are 3 goals you have for the season? This is a good question to make sure your goals are aligned. If she wants to just have fun, and improve her tumbling skills for cheerleading this is good to know versus if she sees herself as a gymnast on her high school team in the future, and wants to pass out of compulsory levels this year.
4. What is a goal you have this week at gymnastics practice? It’s helpful to break bigger goals down into more manageable pieces.
5. What do you want to improve on today at practice?
6. What would you like to improve on that would make you feel the best?
7. What do you think will help you improve? Your gymnast might say that she needs to get stronger, that she needs to practice more or that she needs a private lesson (hopefully, for money reasons it’s not always the latter!).
Questions for After Practice
Here are some questions that you could ask your gymnast after practice, that focus on the process and the fun of gymnastics.
8. What were three things you learned in practice today? Open-ended questions can help you avoid one word answers!
9. What did you work on today at the gym?
10. What was your favorite event at practice today? Why ?
11. What did you enjoy most about practice today? Maybe this question helps her remember the fun she had at the beginning of practice, if the practice ended with something not so fun like conditioning.
Question to Keep Perspective
In Changing the Game, O’Sullivan discusses research from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education that shows kids plays sports for the “following reasons:
- To have fun
- To do something I am good at
- To improve my skills
- To get exercise and stay in shape
- To be part of a team
- The excitement of competition”
12. Why do you do gymnastics? This question can make sure that gymnastics is meeting your gymnast’s goals.
Obviously I love gymnastics, and probably you do too if you are reading this article! Gymnastics has many benefits and I hope every gymnast participating in the sport is reaping them.
Hopefully these questions will help lead to a great, positive conversation about gymnastics. I would love to hear some other question ideas in the comments.