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  • By Alison Arnold, PhD (Doc Ali)

Parents, You Are a Self-Esteem Imprinter

Think of yourself like a self-esteem “imprinter.” With every word you say and action you take, you mold the character and self-confidence of your athlete. With this in mind, how can we create a gymnastics home culture of excellence that is building, not breaking, character and confidence? Here are some Tight Mind Tools to help you create character. Solution-Focused vs. Problem-Focused: Avoid saying negative statements over and over again. Negative corrections like, “Your legs were bent,” “That wasn't your best routine,” and “You’re not giving enough effort” can tend to make your athletes feel down and powerless. Try saying things like, “try asking your coach if you don’t know what you are doing wrong,” or “I know you are a hard worker, if you keep practicing that, I’m sure you will get it.”

Why vs. What: Avoid “why” questions that have no possible right answer. When you ask your athlete “why” questions such as “why are you still falling at the meets?” or “why aren't you upgrading your series?” it sets them up in a no win situation. There is nothing they can say that will satisfy parents in that scenario! Rhetorical “why” questions just shut down an athlete from communicating with you in the future. “What” or "how" questions, like “How are you feeling before beam?,” helps your athlete learn self-reflection skills and increases awareness.

Inspiration vs. Confrontation: If you feel like your athlete isn’t training up to their abilities, the tendency can be to confront the issue by yelling, guilting, or telling them how awful the competition was. Instead, try inspiring them to excellence. Remind them of how good they are instead. Be passionate about how amazing they have been in the past and express doubtlessness that they can do that again. “I know you can get this,” helps them see you believe in them and inspires your athletes to push even harder. Loving the person vs. loving the performance: Be sure to praise your athletes for the person they are and not just the performances they do. Find the “hidden wins” that are more based on character and not solely achievement outcomes. Hidden wins include: perseverance, overcoming obstacles, being aggressive, and leadership. Never let your love be contingent upon performance. If they have a bad meet or workout, help them see all obstacles as opportunities for growth, both for you and them! We all love our sport and the opportunities it provides. Let’s create a healthy home atmosphere that not only creates great athletes but serves as a vehicle for building great people.

Dr. Alison Arnold pioneered peak performance mental training in the sport of gymnastics. Doc Ali has worked with members of every Gymnastics Olympic team for the past 20 years as well as NCAA champions, and thousands of athletes chasing their dreams. After receiving her PhD in Clinical Psychology, she spent 12 weeks studying the mind with the masters in Nepal, four weeks in a Thai forest monastery, three weeks in the Amazon jungle in Peru, two weeks in silence integrating it all, and still made it back to teach it. A former gymnast herself, she is relentless about helping people reach their potential. She has been a mental toughness coach for USA Gymnastics since 1997. Doc Ali is a consistently invited contributor to regional and national USA Gymnastics congresses, and industry publications and websites around the world.

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