Mental Health in Gymnastics - Give Yourself Freedom!
Coach Lisa! Did You See Me!” by Lisa Mitzel, President, Zen Tiger Mind
A few years ago, I had a temporary gig to coach a team of level 4 gymnasts in the springtime. It was upgrade season, or “play time” in gymnastics to learn new skills. And while the owner was looking to hire a new coach, I was the sub.
The nine girls I coached were 8-11 years old, and they were starting to do bigger tumbling skills on floor: side aerials, punch front tucks, and the big kahuna, round-off, back handspring, back tuck. Technically, these girls needed a lot of work. But my goodness! how they were ready to send their bodies flying through the air. One day, their energy was popping off the gym walls. I told them, “Choose a skill you want to learn and I’ll help you.” With happy eyes, they took turns, attempted flips, and giggled. They looked at me and said, “Coach Lisa! Did you see me! I almost landed on my feet!”
They tumbled, flipped and landed in the soft resi-pit, first, and quickly they wanted to do the skills on the hard floor. I felt like a kid myself, watching them, coaching and cheering for them. I had nearly forgotten the childhood thrill of punching into the air and doing new flips with my body.
Practice became organized chaos as I let the girls “play.” I requested they focus on small technical improvements. Tiny ones. I complimented them, I reminded them to focus, and abracadabra, they got better! I was so happy, I said, “You’re so close, I know you can do it!” After one girl made a side aerial for the first time, she ran to another coach and shouted, “I did it! I learned a side aerial!” And she ran back to do more.
What was happening was incredible—it was freedom. Freedom to take risks, flip and fly. Freedom to play in the gym, instead of quietly following instructions. Freedom to try something new, learn from mistakes, and just feel excited about learning. Five out of nine girls learned a new skill that day and their confidence got a big boost. Isn’t it amazing what kids can do when we mix in the ability to choose and the freedom to play.
As I wrote in the blog “A Partnership Across the Ocean,” Zen Tiger Mind and Quatro Gymnastics have a mission to support gymnasts in developing healthy minds and bodies and confidence in gymnastics and life.