I am not a fan of crying at competitions (or in general). My gymnasts will be the first to tell you that I will be the first to tell them that “You can’t see through tears. Go wash your face and come back here when you’re ready to be rational.”
However, in my search to be a better coach, I realize that I need to distinguish between the different types of tears. I am, after all, working with children, adolescents, and teens who have an overabundance of emotions, hormones, and nerves, as well as underdeveloped emotional restraint. I am here to teach them how and when it’s acceptable to let the tears flow. This isn’t true just in the gym, but in life in general. This is where I can really help my girls out.
I cringe to say this, but in our last meet, I had three types of tears on the competition floor:
One child was truly having a hard time with her round-off back handspring. She can do the skill safely in practice. However, she is learning how to cope with the stress of the meet, and the nerves of doing the skill under time constraint, as well as in front of a crowd of people. It got the better of her, her back handspring was especially scary, and she cried. (She then cried harder when I told her that she could neither do any more round-off back handsprings, nor compete it in her routine.) However, I gave her a choice: she could do her routine with just a round-off, or she could scratch floor. She chose to go out there and perform her routine without her back handspring. She stopped crying and did her very best. As her coach, I am very proud that she went out and competed to gain the valuable experience that it doesn’t always go our way, but we can always try our hardest and put forth our best effort. This kid was nine. She bounced back great.
One child was trying really hard not to to be sick. She was tired from being up all night, didn’t have much energy since she didn’t eat much breakfast, but she rallied at the meet. We were taking it one event at a time, and at each event, she pulled through. On beam, however, she get upset that she wasn’t able to perform her more difficult back tuck dismount and started to cry. Our coaches told her that it was okay, and it was better to get through the meet safely. Besides, she didn’t need the skill as a requirement. She came up to me, and I asked her if she was feeling sick, and she said no, it was just that she wasn’t going for her dismount. I told her exactly what the other coaches told her, and told her to go wash her face and get ready to compete a great routine. She stopped crying and stuck her routine. I certainly know what it feels like to be sick and not have a grip on all of my emotions. This kid was eight. She did a pretty good job getting a hold of herself.
One child fell on both her beam and bar routines. This is where I have no patience for crying. Guess what? We’ve all been there. Handling both success and failure in gymnastics with grace is one of the most important lessons the sport can teach us. I believe that if I coddle these gymnasts or let their teammates let them act like they are victims, they will learn nothing. This kid was ten. She could have done better. But now she knows that, and she has more meets to learn how to handle failure a little better.
I am trying to be a better coach each day I head to the gym. To me, part of coaching is seeing the whole gymnast. I am coaching individuals, and each child has a unique set of circumstances that I need to address in order to help her learn the most, which is something that I have to remind myself of on a daily basis. This last meet really showed me that I need to make sure I know the source of the tears and have a conversation with her before I just send a kid out to wash her face.