Failure is a major part of gymnastics. Whether an actual physical fall, or a mental foible, getting up after falling down is a major life lesson that I want all of my gymnasts to learn. It isn’t the fall that matters so much as the getting up afterward and moving on that is the true test of character, and the real measure of success.
Children starting out in gymnastics fail more times than they succeed. This trend continues throughout a gymnast’s career. Even gymnastics superstar Simone Biles didn’t make her first triple-double in competition before getting up and trying it again. And what do we all remember? Not her shortfall on the first day of competition, but her successfully completing it the next day. She made history, and no one can take that away from her. In fact, she was the only one in the world that could have taken it away from herself – by not getting up and trying it again.
As my team heads into competition season, reinforcing this concept is of utmost importance; I, as a coach, cannot be so disappointed in the fall so that I quash the gymnast’s urge to get back up.
Whether a gymnast has a physical fall or a mental misstep, I must remind her that it’s only a fall, and a fall is temporary. I must encourage her to get up, for each time she does, she will learn something.
Some gymnasts (and coaches) believe that falls just should never happen. Of course we should prepare our gymnasts well for meets so that we and they believe that they will be successful. However, given human nature, perfect perfection all the time is not realistic. One of my main jobs is to teach my gymnasts to live in reality, and to know how to handle a fall, physically and emotionally.
Some gymnasts believe that the little eyes around the gym watching them don’t expect them to fall. That can’t be further from the truth: little gymnasts expect everyone to fall just like they themselves do. What they need to see is their role models pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and give it another shot. That’s what successful people do, even though getting up is sometimes the hardest part of all.
As a realistic and objective coach, I must demonstrate that the expectation of doing one’s best work is not necessarily a perfect performance. Rather, the expectation must be the perfect effort, and that requires tenacity and the willingness to get up, move on, and try to improve. It must be okay if something goes awry. As in life, a gymnast must know how to handle the situation when she fails. She must learn how to think on her feet, bounce back, and continue on. If I as a coach want her to develop that character trait, then I need to practice what I preach; I need to act consistently with what I say, make it okay to mess up, but also make it imperative to get back up again and move on. That is the true measure of success.