Why Athletes Bounce Back After a Competition Fall | Live Q&A with Coach Sara

Today’s Topic: Why Athletes Bounce Back After a Competition Fall

Hello everyone.  I’m Coach Sara with Complete Performance Coaching.  I am one of the mental skills coaches here and I am excited to talk to you today about the gymnasts who are able to bounce back after falls.  A coach asked the question this week.  She says,

Q: Why does my gymnast bounce back after a competition fall?

We’re going to tackle that today.  For the parents of gymnasts, coaches, and gymnasts yourselves, you’ve probably experienced this.  You fall.  Beam, bars, didn’t land a dismount on floor, but then after that, the routine is great.  You were able to bounce back as if the fall never happened.

I was talking to a coach about how he had to meet with his girls and a lot of them felt we’re still early on in the season.  They were still nervous and not super confident about competition for the season.  Everyone moved up a level and so he was filling me in about how everything was okay, but most girls fell, and once they did, they were able to bounce back after.

Bounce Back

I think it’s great that as a gymnast you can bounce back after mistakes.  This is a great skill to have.  However, this is a phenomenon that I’ve seen working with so many gymnasts.  The fall has to happen and then they’re okay.  It’s like they’ve expected that they’re going to fall.

Expecting to Fall

Even if they don’t say, “I think I’m going to fall,” some of them do.  It’s as if there’s an expectation that they’re going to fall today or that things aren’t going to go perfectly well because it’s competition.  It’s hard, they get stressed out, and they’re not super confident.  But once that fall is out of the way, a lot of them can bounce back.  They hop back up and hit a routine.

Falling and Not Bouncing Back

Certainly, there are some gymnasts who fall and it goes downhill after there.  For example, on the beam, they hop up and they weren’t really settled, so then they fall again.  Maybe they do their first handstand on the bar, went over, tried again, and it goes over.  There are many times where a fall leads to another or leads to more of a breakdown.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Many, many times, athletes fall, get back up and move on as if it never happened.  They really are very strong once they’ve gotten back up on the equipment.  Once a mistake is out of the way, they feel better.  They’re expecting it to happen and once it has, they can do well.  This is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Self-fulfilling prophecies can happen to all of us and if you haven’t heard this term before, essentially it’s creating the reality by expecting it to happen.

An example of this in your life as an adult is if you wake up and you say, “Oh, I slept really well.  I’m in a good mood,” that sets the tone for the day.  You’re more likely to stop at a stop sign and let another person go. You’re more likely to hold open a door for someone smiling back at you. You expected it to be a good day, so you kind of created the good day.  Now, compare this to the other version of you that wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.  That can be a terrible day.  You’re exhausted, you’re angry when someone gets to the stop sign and goes ahead of you. You are annoyed when someone doesn’t open the door.  You’re noticing all the bad things and you’re just thinking, “Of course.  I just knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Creating Your Own Reality

There are a lot of things out of our control, but we can often create our reality by expecting it to happen – the self-fulfilling prophecy.  These gymnasts ended up creating these realities of falling at meets because they expect it, and then once they do it, they might think, “Okay, I fell.  Now I really need to focus,” or, “Oh, I always fall and that’s done, so I can move on now”.

Confidence in Different Environments

What we want to try and do is encourage positive self-fulfilling prophecies and confidence specific to competitive situations.  Our gymnasts spend so much time in practice, and yes, maybe they’re stressed there sometimes, but they spend so much time in their own gym, their own environment, that’s when they’re comfortable.  When they go to these meets they expect it not to go as well as it does in practice.

Three Ways to Build Self-Trust & Confidence

We want to encourage our athletes to build trust in themselves and expect to do well, understand that their training has prepared them to do well, and if a mistake happens, it’s okay, they can handle it.  Expecting the mistakes isn’t the best place to do your gymnastics from, so we’re going to go over a couple of ways that you can encourage your athletes to think positively, expect to do well, and have a bit more confidence as they compete.

1. Visual Representation

The first strategy that I love is having your gymnast create a visual representation of their preparation.  This could be a jar, a sticker chart, a tally sheet that for every hit routine they put in a bean.  This can be a jelly bean, a penny, a little pom-pom, add a sticker to the chart, put a tally mark, etc.

You don’t have to do this for every single event, but if there are certain events where you noticed it, or last season every beam routine there was a fall.  The series was really wobbly and kind of wild, you can have them do it specifically for their series.  When you come home from the gym, ask, “How many series did you hit today?  10.  Okay, great. Put 10 pennies in the jar, or put ten tally marks.”

This helps solidify the progress and their training instead of everything sort of blending together.  For many athletes, they leave practice focusing on what did not go well, what they need to improve, and they’re thinking about corrections.  That can be helpful sometimes, but if they’ve missed all of the positives and the progress, they’re not going to feel as confident going into the competition.  So think about having that visual representation and working with your athlete to figure out what would they like to do.

2. Competition Imagery

The second way to create this positive self-fulfilling prophecy is by encouraging your athlete to do imagery of meet situations.  Imagery is sometimes called visualizing.  It’s basically where you close your eyes, (some people do it with eyes open), and picture your experience.  You can use this for a lot of different scenarios, but in this case, because meets are different and there’s a desire to do well, sometimes there’s pressure from other people to do well.  Even if there’s not, your athlete is probably creating pressure for themselves.

If your athlete can take the time to imagine themselves at the meet with the judges there, their competition leo, competition hair, the people, the noises, then they might feel less nervous when they actually get to the competition.

By doing this, we’re building their confidence, but we’re also building this positive self-fulfilling prophecy in that imagery.  They see themselves compete and hopefully, they see themselves do well.  They can also practice though falling and getting back up and moving on from it.

If your athlete is one who tends to have a fall, not bounce back, and they break down after, they can use their imagery to improve on that and so if there’s a fall, it would go something like this – “Okay, I see myself take a breath.  I see myself say ‘I can do this’ and then I get back up and I go for it.”

Talk to Your Athlete

They can practice going through those situations a little more skillfully. Along with this, I think it’s important to have a conversation about how falling isn’t the end of the world and that they can handle it.  They don’t really need to stress about it because if it happens they can keep going – they can bounce back.

You can talk about times in the gym where they can do this.  Have the conversation that if you fall, it’s fine, they’ll know what to do.  They’ll know how to handle it.  This will help take some pressure off of it so that they’re not so consumed with this idea of, “Oh no!  What if I fall?  What will happen?”  You’ll say, “Well, what will happen is you’ll get back up and you’ll move on.”

Now, if they’re expecting to fall, that negative self-fulfilling prophecy, then they can actually create that reality, which is why we’re talking about these self-fulfilling prophecies.

3. Setting Goals

The third way to encourage this positivity and help build some confidence is to encourage setting goals that are in their control.  This is specific to meets.  When athletes focus on scores and outcomes or how the coach is going to respond, if they don’t do well, it takes the focus off of their gymnastics.

Now, I know this is very logical, but we have to talk about these things because it’s easily overlooked.  So ask your athlete about goals.  You can do this for practice, but also for competition, which they have more direct control over, like getting more amplitude on their leap series, being calmer before their beam routine, or controlling their energy on the floor.

More Goals, Less Pressure

They’re setting some of these goals that can actually help them hit their routines and can help them avoid the falls that they really are trying to avoid.  When an athlete focuses on goals of these kinds, they may experience less pressure, but they can also see positives at the end of the meet regardless of the scores and the falls because they’re setting goals that they have control over.

These goals could be, “I want to get more amplitude in my leap.  I trained this really hard this week.  Yes!  I got more amplitude,” and you can take a video and show it to them.  Maybe they fell, but you know what?  That’s okay.  Their goal was to get more amplitude.  Did they do that?  Yes.  Awesome.

So parents, remind your athletes that they’re prepared, they’re ready.  But they don’t always listen to us.  They may think, “Oh, you’re my mom. You have to say that, but you don’t know.  You’re not in the gym.”  Instead, ask them how many routines they did?  How many turns have they taken?  How many times did they hit a skill?

Be a Proud Parent

I think one of the best things that we can do as parents is to remind them that no matter what, we’re proud and we love watching them perform.  Taking any pressure off of your kids may help them actually stay on the equipment because they’re putting enough pressure on themselves.

The coaches want them to do well.  Their team wants them to do well.  We have a couple of different strategies to help them have more positive thoughts, expect more that they can do well, but anything we can do to take that pressure off of them is really, really helpful.

Hopefully, through these strategies, you have an idea of how to support your athlete in creating some positive self-fulfilling prophecies.  If you’re feeling like your athlete does need more support, don’t forget to reach out to myself or any of our other coaches.  Click here to schedule your free consultation.

Thank you so much.

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