There is often much conversation among coaches and parents about how certain gymnasts are unmotivated, as if that were a permanent condition or something that cannot be coached. Coaches can influence gymnast’s motivation levels through eight areas of gymnastics psychology. Coaches create the motivational climate in their gym and they can directly affect the motivational level in individual gymnasts.
Gymnasts (and children and humans, in general) love those things that they do well. They “hate” what they are not good at. How many times have you heard a gymnast say “I hate beam” only to come back later and say beam is their favorite when they learn a new skill, series or combination on beam. When gymnasts feel competent in what they do, they are more motivated to work hard, persist and achieve at a higher level. Coaches should be concentrating on making sure gymnasts are learning.
Too many coaches treat gymnasts like mushrooms – they keep them in the dark and feed them tons of manure. Gymnasts who feel in charge and in control are more likely to feel motivated to work hard to achieve their goals. Gymnasts are more motivated when they feel that they are doing gymnastics for themselves, not for coaches or parents. Gymnasts need to be included in goal setting and creating and implementing their training plan to increase their motivation.
Giving gymnasts choices is going to motivate them to do more work because they are going to be more vested in working out harder doing things they have personally chosen to do. Choices give gymnasts feeling personal value and a sense of participation in gaining skills, knowledge and experience. Coaches obviously will still coach and direct all of their gymnast’s training, but can find areas where they can give gymnasts the freedom to select from a number of options the coach offers.
It is important for coaches to make sure that gymnasts know and understand that they are interested in them for more than just being a gymnast on their team. Research has shown that gymnasts will display higher levels of motivation, to work hard for them, when they feel connected to their coaches. That coaching relationship, like any positive relationship, will have gymnasts pushing harder when the going gets tough, because they perceive genuine caring and unconditional love from their coaches and teammates.
One of the reasons we so firmly believe in using our daily step of progress training system and always working on skills at a higher level than the gymnast is competing, is because this higher expectation level provides motivation to gymnasts to live up to that higher level. If there is not enough of a challenge, gymnasts become bored. To me, the worst type of training program is one that does nothing but work on the same set of skills gymnasts are competing that year, over and over again. That is not only limiting in terms of a gymnast’s long term gymnastics career, but is also boring and unmotivating.
Gymnasts like to work out together. I am amazed (in a negative way) when I see gymnastics programs that have gymnasts working out alone. Visual learning works better when gymnasts work out together. Gymnasts who share ideas enhance their thinking and learning and can provide motivation and inspiration for other gymnasts. Allowing gymnasts to help coach their teammates makes things clearer to both participants. There is a tremendous learning process that goes on when someone teaches another. Gymnasts are more motivated to work hard when they are with others who are hard at the same thing as they are.
Gymnastics is not just a sport but a lifestyle, a life choice and preparation for life. The lessons of gymnastics have a much greater meaning and utility than just to win a Level 5 gymnastics meet. Allowing gymnasts to find the full meaning, value and importance in the workout tasks they are asked to complete as help to motivate them and improve their ability to construct meaning for the rest of their life.
It is well understood that you get what you test for. Gymnastics competitions are, in themselves, positive or negative consequences for the work gymnasts either do, or don’t do. But there are many other ways coaches can provide consequences that will help to motivate and shape gymnasts’ efforts. Daily competitions in the gym, daily progress tracking, posting of results and regular evaluation meetings with gymnast all provide additional motivation for gymnasts to work harder. The results can be a higher level of daily positive motivation, because gymnasts know they are being checked on, tested and that others will see the results of their work, positively or negatively. One of our favorite consequences is having a celebration when gymnast show evidence of success.