How to Help Your Gymnast Handle Teammate Conflict
Has your athlete ever come home complaining (or even crying) about something that a teammate said or did? Of course they have. As amazing as it can be to be a member of a team, especially a gymnastics team, there can also be challenges.
When your gymnast spends so much time with other athletes, it’s inevitable that there will be some tension, whether it’s from miscommunication, a disagreement, hurt feelings, being left out, or something else.
When Conflict Grows
But what about when that conflict is bigger, more hurtful, or ongoing? What if your athlete feels like they’re on the outside even though they’re on the team, or they’re being targeted by one or more athletes with hurtful words or actions? They may even want to stop doing gymnastics if things get too bad.
Hopefully these instances are rare and ideally, coaches are helping to monitor team culture and create a positive one, but sometimes these team dynamic issues fall under their radar.
Empowering your Athlete
Ultimately, you know your gymnast, their team, and the coaches, so decide which of these tips may work for you in the situation. Whenever possible, empower your athlete to take charge, but age and severity of the issue may mean it’s time for you to step in.
8 Ways to Help Your Gymnast Handle Team Conflict
1. Talk about it. Though your athlete may be hesitant, encourage them to talk about what’s going on so that you two can work together to find solutions. Your athlete may feel alone in the gym, so let them know they aren’t alone and that you’re there to help. Try not to have these conversations to and from the gym. Instead, try a non-gym day, maybe while you’re on a walk or over a treat like frozen yogurt.
2. Get to the core of the issue. Help your athlete become clear on what it is that’s upsetting them. Is it when one teammate says things like, “That skill wasn’t very good”? Maybe it’s when the rest of the team is closing your athlete off from conversations. It could also be that she isn’t invited to the out-of-gym activities. Getting clear on what the problem is can help you find the solution.
3. Empathize. Help your athlete consider what the other people may be going through and why the situation may be happening. For example, the gymnast who says mean things about your kid’s skills may be struggling in the gym, too. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but if your athlete can see that the comments are about how the other athlete feels and not about her, she may feel a bit better.
4. Consider the role your athlete plays and what they control. This can be tough, even for adults, but sometimes we need to take a hard look in the mirror to see how we may be contributing to the situations we’re in. For example, your athlete may come home complaining that the girls exclude her. Naturally, she’s upset, but you might be missing the information that your child regularly interrupts conversations, is really goofy and distracting in practice, and is, unfortunately, rubbing teammates the wrong way. Now, it’s still unkind what the other athletes are doing, but you can see that your child has the ability to help make changes to the situation by addressing their own behaviors.
5. Address the situation directly. Sometimes the only way to a solution is to work through it directly. Whether that’s talking to one teammate about how her words are affecting your child, making a point to have the team over to your house and allowing your child to express how excluding her has made her feel, or helping your child set boundaries within the team, sometimes it’s best to be direct. Help your athlete prepare by doing role-play and allowing her to practice, out loud, what she’d like to say. Also, consider an ideal time for the conversation so that it can go as well as possible.
6. Go to the coach. Coaches may need to be looped in depending on the situation and the severity. Many coaches would be willing to help if they knew about the situation and, sometimes, when an athlete is trying to be mean or manipulative, they are smart enough to do it when coaches aren’t watching. So, you may need an ally and an extra set of eyes in the gym. Chances are, your athlete isn’t the only one experiencing these challenges.
7. Find your people. While it’s great to resolve these conflicts, it’s also important to know that not everyone will mesh well. Help your athlete find her people (or person) who she feels comfortable with and can develop a strong relationship with. Ideally this is a teammate, but a close non-gym friend can be great, too. Knowing that she has a great friend or two can soften the blow when there are challenges within the team.
8. Encourage out of the gym get-togethers. If you can help the athletes develop friendships out of the gym, this can help inside the gym. Helping teammates have positive experiences together and finding commonalities off the mat can help when they’re back on the mat.
Conflict Resolution is Attainable
These eight ideas can be used alone or together, and there are certainly other options you can try. Regardless of how you handle a situation, know that conflict is inevitable and that many times it can be handled. It’s best to address conflict and challenges early if possible. Conflict and challenges within groups will happen out of the gym as well, so use these situations as ways to prepare your athlete for handling conflict in the real world.