Many gymnasts head off to college and have never learned how to share their feelings, emotions or opinions. Why does this happen? Think of the hours most Level 10 and Elite gymnasts have spent in their gyms. The sport itself is made for girls who are goal oriented. They quietly go about doing every assignment each day. Coaches tend to have list and in order to move up the Levels of gymnastics you must achieve many different progressions. Most gymnasts love this part of the sport. They have a task and they master it, there is very little time for discussion just “get the job done”.
If you walk in gyms around the country they tend to be relatively quiet with the exception of recreation classes going on. The competitive gymnasts usually receive an assignment when they arrive to the gym. When she is done she moves to the next assignment or next event. This goes on until its time to go home. Talking can be considered distracting in a sport that takes full concentration. Some coaches consider feedback as disrespectful. Other coaches are not sure what to do with a gymnast who has an opinion. The coach knows how to teach the skill but often wants very little feedback.
Many college coaches are comfortable with feedback from the athlete and in fact welcome it. What I found was the athlete when asked how they felt about a skill or how they felt about their routine would answer over and over “I don’t know”. Thus began the challenge! My best results as a college coach came when the athletes were able to be a part of the process by speaking their minds, giving feedback and communicating with each other.
I remember having bonding weekends the first month of college practice. I would have each of the student athletes share their life story from birth till now. They loved it! Then before or after most practices we would sit in a circle and share how practice went. Sometimes a few would share and sometimes everyone would be asked for feedback. The most powerful changes the teams needed to make came about by the communication of the student athletes to each other and to the coaches. What better gift to give to the student athlete then their “voice”. Letting them know their opinion mattered. Helping them to learn how to express emotions in a healthy way.
I encourage recruits to have lots of questions when they go on visits to colleges. Bring a list and don’t be shy about communicating your thoughts and feelings. Your “voice” is a valued asset to a college team!