Over the years, I have counseled many elite gymnasts. Recently, an Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics from Japan came to my offices to learn about my approaches to counseling top athletes. The gold medalist, who also has a bronze medal in the high bar came with approximately twenty therapists who also counsel and coach athletes.
Most of the gymnasts I have counseled have been females. And these frequently experience significant amounts of stress. The stress comes from a number of sources.
First, many gymnasts get frightened after they have been injured while trying a new move or while pushing themselves during a competition. They present with symptoms that are very much like post traumatic stress disorder. Many gymnasts who I have counseled report concerns about significant and multiple injuries which can frighten them and impair their ability to perform to their potential.
Also, if they pressured to compete while they are injured, they can be at risk for an additional injury. You can’t do well in gymnastics if an injury or a fear of being injured in clouding your mind and your thinking.
Second, many female gymnasts report tremendous pressure to maintain a low body weight. Some engage in bulimic behavior to avoid being ridiculed by coaches and other athletes. And many gyms fail to educate kids about sound nutrition and healthy eating for athletes.
The obsession with weight is a problem within our general culture, but it appears to be exponentially worse in the world of gymnasts.
Third, a lot of girls who experience a growth spurt can no longer perform the way they did when they were smaller and lighter. This change can be quite upsetting to a gymnast who was finding the sport to be quite easy prior to their physical changes.
Fourth, some gyms and coaches have a rather militant approach to training gymnasts. This kind of philosophy or method is right for some children, but it is not suitable for all kids. I have counseled many young gymnasts who are in the midst of severe conflicst with coaches. Some have experience significant emotional trauma as a result of being treated unkindly by coaches.
Fifth, as is case with many sports, some parents of gymnasts are pushing their kids too hard.
Sixth, some gyms are not careful enough in helping youngsters to avoid injuries.
Seventh, the conflicts between youngsters, coaches and parents are widespread and quite intense in this sport.
Eighth, many gyms neglect to provide adequate training in the mental aspects of competing in gymnastics.
Ninth, the competition amongst the athletes can become quite brutal.
Tenth, because this sport is part sport, part beauty contest, it presents many psychological and emotional challlenges
Recently, a young gymnast called me. When she got on the phone, she marked, “Dr. Granat, I know your voice. We play one of your cd programs in the gym I train in all the time.” I was quite happy to hear that one of my programs was being used to help some gymnasts with the mental aspects of the game.”