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Gymnastics | Cheerleading

The Coach and Gymnast Relationship: How To Support Young Athletes

April 19th, 2024 | 4 min. read

The Coach and Gymnast Relationship: How To Support Young Athletes
Skylar Belton

Skylar Belton

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Liberty Park

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We all had a teacher in school who, for some reason, seemed determined to make their class the opposite of an enjoyable experience. Whether they meant to or not, you could not wait to be done with their class, and you likely still remember the negative impact on your mental health from that semester. Now, picture a gymnast or competitive cheerleader trying to improve in their sport and stay healthy with a coach who acts like that teacher. Doesn’t sound fun anymore, right? 


Unfortunately, many athletes have left the sport they love behind because of a coach who did not build their confidence or only focused on what they were doing wrong - you probably know one. Those examples point to the incredible influence that coaches can have on their athletes, especially in sports like gymnastics and cheer, where young female athletes are under immense pressure already outside of the gym. Our physical therapists at EW Motion Therapy consider it a privilege to come alongside these athletes, helping them prevent injury and improve performance through constructive feedback and personalized treatment plans. You may decide that our services don’t fit your needs, but you can still read on as we discuss the responsibilities of a cheer or gymnastics coach, how a coach can affect an athlete, and the essential people in an athlete’s support system. 


Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


A coach’s responsibilities 

Whether coaching a gymnastics team or a cheer team, a coach of young female athletes has certain responsibilities. First, they set the tone for their gym. As the most influential adults present, they set the standards for respect, attitude, and work ethic in their gym and among the members of the teams they coach. A positive environment can make all the difference for athletes as they spend long hours in the gym learning new skills, trying, failing, and trying again. 


Not only should there be a positive environment among the athletes, but coaches should also focus on constructive criticism. Young kids are perceptible enough to insecurities - the last thing they need for their confidence is another voice telling them they are not good enough. A coach plays a huge role in building their athletes’ confidence in themselves and the rest of their team. It is easy for a coach to get caught up in pursuing an end goal, such as a championship or a certain title, which in itself is not a bad thing. However, if your athletes fundamentally don’t believe they are good enough to reach that goal, they likely won’t. 


Another part of setting the tone in their gym is ensuring their athletes trust them. A gymnast has to trust their spotter in order to perform skills correctly and free of mental blocks - if their coach is their spotter, and they don’t trust them, it can cause them not to be able to perform the skill. Trust is best formed through one-on-one connection with each athlete. Cheer coaches, especially, should schedule one-on-one time with each of their athletes to check in and ensure they are mentally ready to perform. Coaches who have experience in their sport can particularly understand their athletes’ struggles and offer compassion for those with mental blocks.


How a coach affects a young athlete

Just like a parent or a teacher, a coach is an authority figure athletes are taught to respect and obey. Most coaches have their athletes’ best interests at heart and are invaluable sources of encouragement, education, and support. However, like the one bad teacher we all remember having, a negative experience with a coach can ruin the sport for the athlete. Whether the gym was a negative environment, the athlete had a mental block they couldn’t overcome, or the coach was too focused on an end goal to focus on the athletes’ individual concerns, a bad experience can severely decrease an athlete’s confidence and even discourage them from continuing the sport they used to love.


A young athlete’s support system 

Any young athlete needs a support system, starting with their parents, especially if their relationship with their coach is not ideal. It is vital for parents to check in with their athletes regularly, particularly if they begin to notice a decrease in their love and passion for their sport. If the coach is the one dampening their child’s passion, the parent has every right to try and remedy the situation or look for another gym if it cannot be fixed. 


Another vital support person can be a physical therapist. Even if the athlete is not injured, a physical therapist can ensure that their body can keep up with the demands of the sport and the skills required. The best physical therapists uplift athletes, focusing on what they are doing well and offering a plan of action for improvement. This is the goal of our team at EW Motion Therapy as we work with athletes every day toward their goals. If you want to learn more about how physical therapy can help your gymnastics career, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently asked questions.


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