Gymnastics Lessons: Dealing With High Performers & The Overshadowed

gymnastics lessons

This may divide opinion a little, but I want you to think about the following scenario, which may be happening in your gymnastics lessons right now.

You have a top gymnast, who regularly outperforms the rest of the group/team.

You also have a gymnast who is second to your top performer in the way that they train and perform. They work hard, but may never reach their full potential, not as a result of a lack of promise, but because they are consistently overshadowed by their higher performing peer.


I want you to consider this hypothetical scenario for me;

If your top gymnast moved on to another club, were injured or retired for any other reason, would your second best gymnast take their place?

Creating Favourites

It’s widely frowned upon to have ‘favourites’ when coaching, but higher performers do often receive greater attention than their lower performing peers. Something that is often seen as ‘favouritism’ by their rival teammates. If time was split equally for everybody, would the gymnasts with the highest potential reach optimum performance?

Probably not. And while that doesn’t seem fair, it might just be the truth.

So if your second tier gymnast suddenly became the top gymnast in the club, and therefore demanded more of your time, would they realise greater potential than if they were still in the shadow of their higher performing peer?

I’ve seen many cases where potentially great gymnasts are in the shadow of a higher performing team mate. Instead of being motivated and driven by their peers’ performances and results, they suffer a decline in their own self esteem and self worth.

They struggle with being in the shadow of somebody else’s spotlight. It’s not always motivating, and more often it’s demotivating for young gymnasts. They may not have the mental capacity to understand and cope with other people’s success.

The two types of mentality here are known as ‘scarcity’ and ‘abundance’.

A person with a ‘scarcity mindset’ will be threatened by another person’s success, as they believe that another’s achievements are depriving them of their own slice of success. Furthermore they believe there is only so much ‘success’ to go around.

On the otherhand, someone with an ‘abundance mentality’ is happy for others to succeed. They understand that their success does not threaten their own chances of success also. They believe there is room for everybody in life to be high achievers.

Healthy Competition?

Steven Covey, author of the legendary book the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘, talks about the 5 emotional cancers that we should stay away from:

  • Complaining
  • Criticising
  • Competing
  • Contending
  • Comparing

Being competitive in a sporting setting is a key attribute for gymnasts and coaches to be internally driven to improve performance. Competition within a club can be exceptionally healthy and when in place, can ease the job of the coach when igniting the gymnasts’ self drive to perform better.

But a) wanting to beat somebody to ensure they don’t win, and b) wanting to beat somebody in order to be the best, are two contrary philosophies. Only one can result in sustained happiness, as the reality is everybody will be beaten at some point, and many will be beaten a lot.

The worst thing a coach can do when a coaching an overshadowed gymnast is publicly or openly compare them to their team mate, cementing in their mind their inferiority to their higher performing peer;

‘What are you doing, you don’t see ‘Katie’ performing like that do you?’

‘Katie can do these in her sleep, why are you struggling so much?’

‘If you want to be more like Katie you’re going to have to work harder.’

Feedback like this creates a self fulfilling prediction which is being cemented into the gymnasts’ belief system, breeding a mindset of jealousy (contending), bitterness (complaining/criticising) and lack of self esteem (comparing.)

Nick’s Tips To Improve Your Gymnastics Lessons

  • Praise progress. However small. It’s the small daily wins that amount to serious growth, and gymnasts of all abilities like to be informed of each positive step in the right direction.
  • Educate the gymnast to focus on bettering their own performance, and by benchmarking success against their own development, not always the results of others. Another gymnast’s performance is not in their control (always control the controllable.)
  • Educate the gymnast (all of them!) about the road to success, the trials and tribulations on the way and the pitfalls they will experience.
  • Educate the gymnasts that life is not fair, it never will be. Not in business, not in relationships, not in careers and not in sport. Nobody is entitled to anything. You achieve what you work for, but often in sport, it’s not always the hardest worker that wins. It’s just the way it is, get over it and get used to it.
  • As a coach, never speak to your gymnast about the lack of fairness in performances, scores or rankings. Your emotional intelligence and rational thinking is contagious, and I have seen several gymnasts adopt the bad attitudes of their coaches as they are conditioned by their influence.
  • Avoid comparing gymnasts performances to the whole group in a bid to try and create motivation. It is demotivating, lowers self esteem, and provides a false reference for their progress.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, your top gymnast will someday finish, get injured, lose interest or transfer to another club. The depth of your gymnastics programme is vital to sustained success.

Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and International Gymnastics Coach and Consultant.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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