Why It’s Good for Gymnasts to Be a Little “Bad”




“Wow, I am so glad you got in trouble today at gym!” said no parent or coach ever.

But the truth is, it is not an entirely bad thing when your athlete breaks a rule, cheats on a conditioning assignment or pushes a boundary.

Believe it or not, coaches, you don’t want blindly obedient gymnasts.

And parents: You don’t want kids who never push at boundaries and who don’t learn to accept the consequences of their behavior.

The media recently reported that disobedient kids are more likely to earn more as adults. Furthermore, I’ve written before on the benefits of being “bossy,” especially for our daughters. But there are even more reasons why it’s actually good if your athlete gets into trouble from time to time:

Demonstrates they think for themselves. As much as parents and coaches may think they want an athlete that is absolutely compliant, blind obedience should not be a long-term goal for any human being.   Alfie Kohn author of ‘Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason’ explains that absolute obedience is a particular problem as kids move toward adolescence, “”If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”

Reveals that they are securely attached. Secure attachment, a child who is confident in the love of their caregivers, is important to a child’s development as it strongly correlates with having a strong sense of self-worth, empathy, social competence and self-control. Alison Roy, lead child and adolescent psychotherapist at East Sussex Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), says: “A child will push the boundaries if they have a more secure attachment. Children who have been responded to, led to believe – in a healthy way – that their voice is valued, that all they have to do is object and action will be taken – they will push boundaries. And this is really healthy behavior. Compliance? They’ve learned there’s no point arguing because their voice isn’t valued.”

Provides opportunity to learn to deal conflict. Dealing with conflict is an essential life skill. When kids go against the grain, they have the opportunity to learn how to cooperate and compromise with others. They gain valuable skills in understanding how others’ think as well as advocating for what they believe.

Teaches them about making mistakes and recovering from them. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from our mistakes, is an important life skill—and that includes the mistakes we make in our relationships with others. When an athlete gets a “time out” at the gym or is caught cheating on conditioning, they may feel embarrassed but they also now have the opportunity to recover from their mistake and to move on. In every single close relationship we ever have, we are going to make mistakes and let our loved on down at one point or another. Learning to recover from those icky feelings is critical in maintaining strong relationships.

Shows them how to accept consequences. Our choices have consequences. Children don’t always make the association between their actions and the consequences and it’s adults’ role to help them see the correlation.   It teaches them that they can control their behavior and that they have the power to choose their actions. If an athlete is asked to repeat a conditioning assignment she cheated on, that is a logical consequence for her choice to cheat.

Gives opportunity to practice apologizing. Which bring the next opportunity, mastering the art of the apology. Learning how to apologize is critical life skill that many never master. Dr. Robert Gordan’s amazing TED talk The Power of An Apology talks about the three step approach to saying you’re sorry: 1) Acknowledgement—shows you see how your action impacts others; 2) Remorse and Empathy—shows you feel badly and you understand how it made the other person feel and 3) Restitution—how you are going to make up for your transgression. Teach your child this and give them room to practice it and you will have a child who will have many successful, close relationships.

Allows them to learn that they are still loveable even if they mess up. Kids mess up. And we need to let them know that even when we don’t like their behavior we still like them. If a child never steps out of line or is not held accountable for her actions, she doesn’t have the chance to understand this important lesson.

The word discipline is from the Latin discplina meaning instruction or knowledge. When kids mess up and are lovingly disciplined they gain knowledge that is useful to them for the rest of their lives.

Remember: the goal of educating an athlete is to raise a successful adult. As Alfie Kohn reminds us, “When I ask parents, at the beginning of my lectures, what their long term goals are for the children, I hear words such as ethical, compassionate independent happy and so on. No-one ever says mindlessly compliant.”