CAN’T and 9 Other Words to Eliminate From Gymnasts’ Vocabulary

Primary Aged Girl Making Shush Gesture

If I were in charge of the world, ice cream would be a health food, homes would be self–cleaning and these ten words would be eliminated from our gymnasts’ vocabulary.

  1. Can’t—Can’t means won’t.  Think about it: there are very few things one “can’t” do. Sure, you “can’t” go without oxygen for more than a few minutes or water for more than a few days. But if you “can’t” do a back handspring, it’s because you “haven’t learned it yet” or “you are not yet able.” So say that instead of can’t. Or, if you don’t want to do a back handspring, say that. Or, if something is preventing you from doing it (like an injury or a fear), say that. But please do not say “can’t.” It’s like fingers on a blackboard for any coach to hear that word come out of their athletes’ mouths.
  2. Have to—Okay, I know it’s two words but “have to” makes the list. Here is the danger of “have to”: it eliminates ability to choose. A close cousin to “can’t,” there is very little in life that we “have to” do. (Breathe. Eat and drink enough to stay alive. But I cannot think of anything else.) We choose to do all sorts of things; and, that is a great thing. So, you don’t “have to” come to practice, you choose to in order to improve. You don’t “have to” do conditioning, but you choose to in order to honor your coaches wishes, be a positive role model on the team and to get stronger so you can progress in the gym. You don’t “have to” listen to your parents, but you probably won’t be thrilled with the results if you don’t, so you choose to.
  3. Should—Should implies that the activity is a burden. “I should” go to practice is ripe with lack of commitment. “I should” do cardio outside of the gym is not useful in making you any better. Instead, commit. “I am,” “I will,” or “I want” are each superior to “I should.” Or don’t commit: “I am not going to,” “I choose not to” or “I’d rather die than” are also viable (albeit less likely to get you to your goal) choices. This is your ride, my gymnasts. You are at the wheel of this car. It is up to you to drive it.
  4. Try—Try is a bit complicated because “try” is not an entirely bad word. When “try” is really “I am going to give it my best effort no matter what,” it’s a great concept. However, “try” has been misused for so long that it needs to go. “Trying” is too often a cop out for actually “doing.” It is sort of a weak, wimpy word that implies that the athlete is going to flirt with doing the assignment or skill. It is especially an offensive term when “trying” is just code for “don’t hold me accountable for failing.” Sometimes you will do and you will fail, and that is okay. As the great philosopher Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
  5. Suck—No, you don’t “suck”. Maybe you didn’t work to your potential. Maybe you didn’t achieve your goal. Maybe you didn’t qualify for the championship meet. Maybe you had a bad rotation, a bad day, a bad meet or even a bad season. But there is no way that you suck. There are less than 5% of the kids in the world who can do what you do, and that is true for the most basic gymnast: you don’t suck. (Note to statistics Nazis: I made up that 5% statistic. I don’t really know how many kids can do a better walkover, handspring or giant than any one of my athletes, but less than 5% seemed like a good guess. Besides, 73.6% of statistics are made up on the spot.)
  6. Fat—I hate the word and want it out. Now. “Fat” makes people feel badly about themselves, hopeless and does little else. In the case of a gymnast, typically “fat” means something so entirely out of whack that any “normal” person would scratch their head in disbelief. A 5 foot tall growing girl who weights 100 pounds is not “fat.” Yet I have had enough girls cry in my office over being “fat” to know that there are plenty out there who think that this is true. If as gymnast you are lacking the level of fitness that is essential to being a high level athlete, that does not mean you are “fat.” Instead, look at ways to increase your fitness by eating healthier and getting in more cardio. But drop the “f” work, please.
  7. Loser—No child who commits to this sport and masters even the most basic level of gymnastics can consider herself a “loser” no matter what the meet results might be. Yes, in competition there will be people with higher scores and lower scores, but not a single one is a loser. Maybe this sounds Pollyannaish, but I don’t care. You get out there on a four inch wide beam in essentially a bathing suit and flip…not a chance these kids are “losers.”
  8. Quit—Sometimes the word “quit” is a positive one—like “I quit smoking” or “I quit throwing rocks at my brother.” But difference between quitting gymnastics and ending gymnastics is huge. It pains me when I see former gymnasts and they refer to having “quit gymnastics” when in fact they simply retired, ended or moved on to another sport. That is not quitting! Quitting is giving up in the middle of something, so these athletes are not quitters.
  9. Impossible—Impossible shuts down conversation. With conversation ground to a halt, there is no point in communicating further to try to solve a problem or brainstorm various solutions once a situation is deemed “impossible.” Difficult? Yes. Hard? Yep. Impossible? No. A close concept to impossible is “never.” “Never” can go right along with “impossible.” “Not yet,” “Not sure how to do this,” “I need help” or “This is challenging for me” are healthier choices.
  10. I’m scared—(I know, again with the two words.) Feeling fear is ok and is a normal part of the life and gymnastics. We cannot cure what is normal. But instead of saying “I’m scared” which describes the situation as if there is a permanent character trait (Like “I’m Anne” or “I have blue eyes.”), replace it with “I feel afraid.” Feelings come and go. Feelings give us information, but are not always telling the truth. And, feelings are not a permanent part of who we are, and therefore we can work through them or at least around them. You are not your fear and your fear is not going to dictate who you are. Maybe it is a game of semantics, but it is an important game.

What about you: if you could eliminate a word from your child, student or athlete’s vocabulary, what would you choose?