Teaching Optimism

It’s difficult to fake optimism. And it’s even more difficult to teach it. But as coaches, that has to be our focus.

One of the secrets to being optimistic is knowing that one is in control of her life. For a gymnast, she has to know that she controls what her body does; fate, luck, or the beam gods have nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s her outlook (positive or negative), her preparation (lacking or thorough), her strength (or weakness), her resolve (or lack thereof), and her focus (laser or blurry) that determine her control. And it is up to her coach to remind her of that.

For instance, when one of my gymnasts finishes a tumbling pass (but not the one she planned), and I ask her what happened, I usually get a shoulder shrug or an “I don’t know.” That’s when I ask, “who is in control of your body?” She answers that she is. Then we can have a conversation about control. What was she thinking about? What has she done differently in the past that made her make the skill? Is she going as hard as she can? Is she thinking about where her arms are? What can she do to take control?

Many times, a gymnast’s control is lost due to a pessimistic outlook or response to how a skill is going. This usually isn’t due to one day’s not going well. Rather, it is due to the fact that the gymnast is thinking about how the skill hasn’t been going well for a few practices now, or that she is afraid of a specific skill, or she feels tired, and her self-doubt becomes insurmountable. At this point, her outlook is tainted by a negative perspective and she is fails before she even begins. She loses control of her mindset, and she loses control of her gymnastics.

I have written about “a blank slate” from a coach’s perspective. But this concept is not limited to a coach’s relationship to her gymnasts. It is also important that a gymnast gives herself a blank slate in her mind, day to day.

As a coach, I must remind my gymnasts that they, and only they, can provide themselves with the necessary outlook for success. I can tell them how proud I am of them, how great they are, how much I believe in them until I’m blue in the face, but until they actually believe it themselves, it will never be enough. And the only way that they can begin to believe in themselves is that they must believe that they are in control of their attitude and their gymnastics.

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