Rhythmic gymnastics is not the most popular sport in Canada…yet (we’re working on it)! It can be hard, as parent, to know how to support your gymnast, whether he/she is just starting or is an experienced performer or competitor.
So we thought we’d provide some Helpful Hints on how best to support your rhythmic gymnast!
Being a great sport parent – what a girl wants
Researchers1 at the University of Alberta have interviewed pre-teen and teenage girls to find out what THEY think makes a great sport parent.
TIP #1: Give kids space to make their own mistakes and learn from their own failures.
TIP #2: Listen to your gymnast’s goals and help your gymnast find ways to achieve them. And remember, while your gymnast is partly you, he/she is their own person too. Their goals might not be your goals, and that’s ok! Emphasize effort and enjoyment. Focus on the effort not the outcome.
TIP #3: Support the team and the club, not just your child. Some kids aren’t keen to be singled out in a group – cheer as loud as you can for everyone, and hope they do the same for your gymnast.
TIP #4: Giving your gymnast help getting ready for competition or performance can be ok – if you listen to your gymnast! That might mean packing a bag (or reminding your gymnast to pack their bag) the night before or a pep talk in the car. Sometimes it means leaving your gymnast alone with his/her own thoughts. Most gymnasts, especially as they get older, have their own way of mentally and emotionally preparing themselves. Give them space to do their thing!
TIP #5: Provide positive and realistic post-competition or performance feedback is ok – sandwich the constructive comments between positive comments and make sure it’s appropriately timed. Sometimes gymnasts need a few hours to calm down after practice, performance or competition, give your gymnast space to reflect on his/her experience. If you can’t read his/her emotions, ask if they’re ready to talk about it. If not, find something else to talk about.
Being a great sport parent – learning from the best
While it’s good to know what your gymnast wants from you, sometimes it’s nice to have an example, a role model you can learn from.
Again, researchers from U of A interviewed coaches and exemplary sports parents (recommended by those coaches) to find out what parents think it takes to be a great sport parent.
TIP #1: Great sport parents are emotionally supportive, attentive listeners who focus on effort and understanding (unconditional love)
TIP #2: Encourage your gymnast to find his/her independence, make mistakes and learn from failure. Wait for a better time to chat if your child needs time to process and reflect. Learning to reflect on experiences is how kids learn and is essential for developing life skills.
TIP #3: Winning isn’t everything – RG is a sport that takes years to develop expertise. Sometimes that means routines won’t go as well in competition as they do in practice…and that’s ok. Support your gymnast and help them find ways to re-focus and get ready for the next routine (take some deep breaths, have a snack) or the next event. Your gymnast knows when they haven’t done their best out on the floor – resist the urge to ‘correct’ every mistake.
TIP #4: Great sport parents build and model healthy relationships (trust and communication with coach) and cope with emotional demands (child’s and monitor their own). Exemplary sport parents have high levels of emotional intelligence: this means parents are attentive to their gymnast’s emotional needs – they know when their gymnast needs to talk and share thoughts after a practice or competition or when the gymnast needs time to calm down or reflect first. Just as you’d expect from your gymnast, remember to maintain control of your emotions. If you are upset about a score or something that happened, take 24-48 hours to cool off before you talk to your child’s coach. A little bit of time can provide a lot of perspective.
TIP #5: Just like your gymnast learning incredibly complex gymnastics skills, great sport parenting skills can be learned, practiced and honed. Parenting skills change over time – as your gymnast gets older, he/she will want more space to practice and learn to be independent. Parents make mistakes too, and just like your gymnast, the best learn from their mistakes!
In short, exemplary sport parents understand their kids, themselves, and the sporting context. They share and support their gymnast’s journey through sport, being highly involved while fostering their gymnast’s independence.
1Knight, C. J., Neely, K. C., & Holt, N. L. (2011). Parental Behaviors in Team Sports: How do Female Athletes Want Parents to Behave? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23(1), 76-92.
2Pynn, S. R., Dunn, J. G. H., & Holt, N. L. (2019). A qualitative study of exemplary parenting in competitive female youth team sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 8(2), 163-178.