Over the years, I have counseled many elite figure skaters, gymnasts and cheerleaders their coaches and their family members.
These sports present some special and unique emotional, psychological and physical challenges.
First, athletes in these sports are frequently asked or required to do some very scary and very dangerous movements. Some of the things they do are simply unbelievable.
Here is what they say when they are anxious about a particular move or routine:
“I am scared to move my body this way.”
“I used to be able to do this flip, but now I just can’t.”
“I can do it when my coach spots me. But the moment she leaves, I am terrified and I feel like I am frozen.”
Sometimes, when youngsters are frightened, they need special kinds of coaching to overcome their fears. While some athletes can forge ahead with a simple mantra like, “Go for it,” Others need to a gentler approach where they learn the movement in small steps. And other competitors in these sports need to learn how to use meditation, visualization, guided imagery, relaxation training and even prayer in order to be more confident, relaxed and focused when they compete in their respective event.
Second, injuries in figure skating, gymnastics and cheerleading are very common.
People tolerate pain differently and they have different ways of recovering from injuries.
Sometimes, kids are encouraged to compete when they should not. In some instances, trainers, parents, coaches and doctors have different thoughts on managing injuries. It is essential that all the people involved develop a sensible and consistent plan for healing and for coping wisely with the physical ailments that are so common in these sports.
Third, the judging in these sports can be quite political, unclear and inconsistent.
Consequently, athletes, parents of athletes and coaches have to learn how to deal with the frustration which can accompany what is sometimes unfair scoring.
Fourth, the training in these sports is incredibly rigorous and demanding. Thousands of hours or preparation go into preparing for a very short routine. Not surprisingly, burnout is a major cause for concern in these worlds.
Fifth, interpersonal conflicts among teammates, parents and coaches in these sports can be major distractions for the competitors.
Sixth, after a tough and frustrating competition, parents and coaches can say the wrong things during the car ride home. These conversations can damage an athlete’s confidence and self esteem.
Seventh, body weight, body image and physical appearance very important in these sports. Weight control, anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders can present additional challenges for people who compete in these events.