The Unlucky 7: 7 Setbacks Most Gymnasts Eventually Face (and How They Can Rebound from Them)


Resilience and grit are the best buddies of any gymnast, but are particularly tested when things go south.

Stick around in the sport long enough and you (or your child/athlete) are likely to encounter many, if not all these ‘unlucky’ seven:

  1. Not Moving Up a Level. Despite your hard work, there remains an element or two that prevents you from moving up. A problem that is compounded when your friends are moving up and geometrically multiplied if that means you are no longer in the same workout group.
  2. Not Qualifying for a Major Meet or Blowing it When You Get There. State, regionals or nationals…it often stings when you don’t make it to the culmination meet of the season, especially when it was supposed to be a sure thing that you would.   Or, if you do make it, having the worst meet of the season at the culminating meet is also pretty terrible.
  3. An Injury at an Inopportune Time. Not that there is ever a great time for an injury but a broken bone right before regionals most definitely is a bummer.
  4. Losing a Skill. You had it one day, and then it’s gone. Bonus points if it’s a kip because come on…!
  5. A Mental Block or Major Fear. Ranging from being stuck on a single skill or the sudden fear of going backward, blocks and fears are not insurmountable obstacles but they can challenge even the toughest of gymnasts and coaches.
  6. A Plateau. Sometimes setbacks aren’t backs as much as stalls. Though they feel just as yucky.
  7. A Disappointing (or an Even Worse than Last Season) Season. Last year you scored consistently in the 37s. This season, you struggle to break a 36. And you are the same level. Ugh.

So what words of wisdom can I give to you?

Here is the advice I give my own children:

Why not you? Instead of “why me?” ask “why not me?” Set backs and disappointments are a normal part of life. They happen to everyone at some point in some area of their life. Which brings me to my next pithy response…

You can’t cure normal. You can’t make what is part of life not part of life. What you can do is choose how you cope with it.

Get up and dust yourself off. This is the resilience test. Can you stand up after you fall down?

Check for physical injuries (and causes). Before you throw yourself back at your goal, check in for physical reasons you are struggling. If it is an injury that caused the setback, then the answer is probably obvious. But sometimes injuries or physical deficiencies are causing problems that are not obvious. Sometimes normal things, like growing will cause setbacks. When your body grows (sometimes several inches!) it can cause you to need to make major adjustments to your gymnastics and can make what was once simple exceedingly difficult. Ask any girl who has clipped her feet on giants all of sudden about this one! Between the shift in the distribution of weight in you body and the added length, growth spurts are tough on athletes.

Get help. A good sports medicine doctor, physical therapist and sports psychologist are worth their weights in gold. Coach’s’ advice is valuable but (very few) coaches are licensed medical or psychological practitioners. Get professional help if it is warranted.

Look for the opportunity to make a change and make those changes a priority. Do your physical therapy.  Or be patient getting adjusted to your new height. If it is an injury or a strength imbalance, do your physical therapy. If it is growth related issue, be patient (and persistent) while you adjust to the new normal. If it was a lack of effort, get working with deliberate practice.

Don’t dwell on the failure. Once you have determined what went wrong, make up for what you can, and correct your procedures to prevent it from happening again. And then let the past go.

Don’t ever let failure hold you back. Don’t allow the first mistake compound into the second, third and fourth. Learn from your mistakes, lead without regrets and keep moving forward toward your ultimate goals.