What if our coach focuses more on the negative?

Hey everybody, Coach Rebecca here! I got a question from a mom of a nine-year-old gymnast and I thought I would dissect it with you all. This mom asked the big question “if we feel my daughter’s coach focuses more on the negative and does not give positive reinforcement, how do we handle it?”

A negative coach

Unfortunately a negative coach is something you might run into during your gymnastics career, or any sports career really. How do you handle it? Do you move gyms or teams? If you leave how do you assure that the next coach doesn’t have the same coaching style?

As a parent, there can be an added level of difficulty when you see the negative coaching but your kid doesn’t want to move gyms. Unfortunately it’s a tale I hear all the time. I hear it from both sides. I will hear that they want to move gyms but the gyms that are going to be good for the athlete’s career aren’t always the ones giving compliments and positive reinforcement. On the other end of the spectrum are parents who value mental health more than the idea of their elite hopeful daughter making it to that elite level. They see gymnastics as a “small” part of her entire life it’s not worth it to destroy her mental health.

This stage of an athlete’s life

That can be the hard part of having competitive child athletes. When we are in the middle of it, it seems like gymnastics is her entire life. When in reality it could only last a few years of a long life. No one is doing competitive gymnastics at 50. The gymnastics skills aren’t the only skills we are teaching our kids in this stage of life.

We are teaching them about mental health (whether that is healthy things or unhealthy things), we are teaching them about listening to their body, we are teaching them about hard work, they are making friends, and overcoming struggles. There is so much more than gymnastics going on in a gym.

My child doesn’t want to leave the negative gym

I always think it is best to let the athlete steer the ship when talking about moving gyms. Maybe your athlete doesn’t realize that their coach is coaching them in a negative way. It could be the only coach that she has known and she loves that coach. She also has made friends at the gym and has grown up with the same group of gymnasts and the thought of starting over is scary!

I talk about this in all my parent training, the best thing you can do for your athlete is stop talking and start listening. They are being told what to do and how to do it all day long. What they want is to be heard. You want to find out about how she feels about her experience in gymnastics, how her mental health is, how she is feeling. You have to listen as neutrally as possible, with curiosity and an open mind so you can really hear her perspective.

Talk to the coach

Now this can be scary. But at the end of the day coaches are human too, they just want to be heard and understood. Talking to your child’s coach can be INTIMIDATING to say the least, I actually have an entire script you can follow at https://completeperformancecoaching.com.

You’re goal in talking to the coach is to just open the lines of communication, communication is HUGE. You are going in and giving a list of things they need to change and pointing fingers and putting everyone on the defensive. That coach just needs to know that you want to understand their method. You basically just have to go in and ask “I would really love to understand your method more, can you help me?”. You can even ask “how does your method bring our the best in the athletes that you coach?”. The key here is to not be sarcastic or judgemental, we don’t want anyone putting their defenses up. We purely, truly want to understand this coach because these humans are doing the best they can.

Coaches are humans too, and they have a very hard, time consuming, and physical job. We want to acknowledge the facts and thank them for spending so much time with your athlete, while also understand the method for bringing the best out in her. Here is the tricky part, just like with your daughter, you have to talk less and listen more in this conversation as well. When you do talk ask lots of open ended questions so you can get a true feel for their methods and reasonings.

What to do once you know the motive behind the “negative”

Once you feel like you have a good idea of where they are coming from and why they do things the way they do, you can start to talk about the common goals you have. You both want your athlete to succeed, you both want her to be happy and successful. The struggle you are having is that she is successful but not happy.

This is when you can touch very lightly on that issue. Maybe phrase it as giving that coach a little insight to what helps your athlete grow and be the best they can be. “My athlete is a kinesthetic learner, she really needs to feel a skill to understand it. If she can get a spot and be put through the motions of a skill she can understand and pick it up WAY faster!”. “How can we help you facilitate that in the gym?”

Compliments to help the negative feelings

If your kid needs compliments this might be a good time to talk to coach about that too. “My kid can be really sensitive, we both know that. The good thing about that though is any compliment is going to fire her up and make her feel like a million bucks. She will work so hard for you.” You are just trying to give them a little insight to what makes your kid tick to better help both coach and athlete.

What happens if talking gets you no where

At this point if nothing changes that’s when you would talk to a supervisor. Whether that is the head coach, the gym owner, whoever it is that runs things. Just voice that you had a conversation with hat coach, it sounds like they have some really good motives. They really want to boost these kids’ confidence and skills, but what I actually notice is it’s decreasing my kids’ confidence the way they are going about it. And then just ask if they have any suggestions. Is there anything I could explain to my daughter or anything that you could talk to the coach about to let them know the impact that it’s having.

Then if still nothing improves you go up to the next level fo supervisor, if there is no one maybe it is the owner of the facility. You can just say, I have talked to these two people and here is what I have noticed. I would love for this to be a positive place for my daughter. Is there anything you can suggest or do to aid in that?

When to thin k about leaving the negative gym

If you have run it all the way up the flag pole, and still nothing changes. My personal opinion is that if there is bullying, demeaning, isolating, ignoring, yelling, I would get my kid out of there. I know that is not possible for everyone but I just want you to consider that if this is something you have talked about, nothing is changing, and you are seeing your child’s mental health suffer consider it.

So now what?

You might live in the middle of nowhere and you just cannot drive two hours, but you don’t want to take the sport away from your kid. You have tried the communication, you have done everything in your power to make those changes. At the end of the day we can’t control other people. So it is what it is.

Here is how you help your kid. Teach them to put up a filter. This is such great technique. So they put up the filter, and the filter can be whatever color they would like. It is like a sparkly colorful cloud of protection that only lets the goodness in. They only things that are getting in are the good, kind, useful ones.

So let’s say the coach says ” you are never going to get to the next level if you don’t know how to point your toes” they only thing they let in is “point your toes”. When things start to feel impossible bounce them off that filter and go on with it.

This is big kid stuff to be able to put up that filter and decide whats good to let in. But it is such great practice for life after gymnastics too. To be able to be so stinking positive that nobody can bring you down. It a skill I know a lost of adults struggle with. Being able to focus on what she can control is going to help her move towards her goals, and what they are capable of.

Coaching winners doesn’t require bullying

At the end of the day we all want to win, parents, coaches, and athletes alike. But winning doesn’t require yelling, belittling. The gyms that put humans first, who value and invest in mental training, they not only win but they are also building good humans along the way.

If you feel like you need a bit more support to better support your athlete, join our parent training. Did i forget to mention that it is FREE! Click this link to head to the registration page FOR FREE.

If you feel that your athlete might benefit from some extra mental strength training book a FREE consultation with one of our amazing coaches HERE.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.