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November 13, 2018 4 min read

Although people believe the recipe for success in gymnastics requires merely 2 ingredients: talent, and practice, there’s one crucial spice they often forget - confidence. A gymnast can be very talented and practice hard, but if they aren’t confident they won’t realize their full potential. And while talent is innate and practice depends on the coaches, building confidence is something you as a parent can help with.

However, you have to learn how to boost your young gymnast’s confidence without interfering with their competence, and we can help you strike the balance!

You probably remember what we said in our last blog post. It’s important to be your kid’s loudest cheerleader. But it’s also important to know the difference between cheering and praising. And while there’s a thin line between them, once you’ve read this article all the blurriness will become clear.

Over-praising = lowering the bar

There are three variables that make up the equation that is self-esteem. Love, security, and competence. But more often than not, gymnastics parents leave competence out of the equation. Whenever you tell your gymnast she is the best or her bars routine is perfect, you’re actually lowering the bar for her. Translation: you’re saying she no longer needs to push herself and she’ll end up stagnating. Competence is the art of becoming good at something and no kind words can make up for the practice and sweat needed to achieve it.

Perfection vs. striving for perfection

Don’t tell your gymnasts they are perfect, rather teach them to strive for perfection. The centuries-old saying “nobody is perfect” didn’t endure for so long in vain. Trying to be a better version of oneself is the engine behind success, and this is exactly what your kid needs to know.

Inaccurate praise might lead to your gymnasts believing they are perfect. This way you are shaping a self-centered person who believes her not-so-good vault routine is a Yurchenko.

Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond is enough

We all want to see our gymnast advance a level. But what’s really important is for them to feel secure where they are. In other words, you should make sure your gymnast’s goals are within reach and not push them too hard. If they feel comfortable in level 3, where he/she is the star, pushing him/her to enter level 4 where they are the weakest link might do more harm than good. Naturally, this doesn’t mean the gymnast should stay in one level forever. Simply give them enough time to enjoy the fruits of their labor before going for more.

Do offer appropriate praise

Of course, we are not saying you should avoid praising your child altogether. It’s misuse of praise that is bad, but when earned, praise is an invaluable part of building confidence. What you as a parent must know, is you have to be specific and focus on praising your gymnast’s effort. Merely saying great “great routine” is not enough. Instead, be more specific and say that her round off was amazing, or that her aerial cartwheel was the best one thus far. This not only builds gymnasts’ self-esteem but also shows them you really care about what they do.

“Overheard” praise is the best

Indirect praise can have a great impact on your gymnast. If they overhear you boasting, they’ll know the praise is genuine since they weren’t supposed to hear you. When you’re on the phone, or having a friend over for coffee, spot the chance and say something like “The coach said Megan is practicing hard” or “I was watching my baby practice the other day, she’s becoming better day in day out.” Nothing would make your kid happier than knowing you are not “just saying it”, but you really mean it.

Show your gymnast you are 100% behind them

Unconditional love is the key to everything, including building confidence. This, however, doesn’t mean you should make your gymnast believe they are the best, rather make them feel loved even when they fail. A simple “Pick yourself up and dust yourself off” is what every athlete, including gymnasts, should hear. Explain to your young gymnast that failure is normal, it’s something they should learn from. You can even go as far as to tell them a story on how failure taught you something. This way gymnasts won’t feel pressured and will have the courage to take risks.

Don’t forget the house chores

What do house chores have to do with building confidence? Well, young children need to feel valued, they need to feel they are contributing in one way or another. And when they know their parents depend on them for certain things, this makes them feel more grown up (read more confident). Confidence in everyday life is a prerequisite for confidence in the gym.

Spot the reason behind low self-esteem

Definitely, prevention is better than a cure. But if your gymnast is already expressing a lack of confidence, don’t just assume you know the reason behind it. It might be anything, from an injury, to fear of letting someone down. It might be even something as simple as not having the cutest leotard. The important thing is to pin down the specific reason for the lack of confidence, so you’d be closer to finding a solution for it.

So what’s the takeaway then? Boosting confidence has little to do with praising. You can help your gymnasts by making them feel loved and appreciated. They need to enjoy gymnastics without feeling pressured or afraid. And most important, gymnasts need to know failure is OK, and that you won’t love them less for it.