The Death of “Good Job!”: A New Era In Praising Little Gymnasts

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Gym friends, we are gathered here today in a somber moment to say our final goodbyes to our beloved phrase. “Good job!” has been with us from the beginning; reliable when we were teaching our fourth preschool class of the day and our brains were tired. “Good job” was a constant presence in our gym, providing comfort, yet no actual feedback for gymnasts. We will miss its ease and but not it’s mediocre results.

Let’s usher in a new era of meaningful praise for our little gymnasts!

Praising is a big part of our business. You can’t let a class go by without praising just about everyone in it. And we should be praising everyone in each class during their one hour in the gym per week.

In my years teaching Kindergarten, I changed the way I praised children and it totally revolutionized my classroom. It got rid of the “watch me’s!”, the “am I doing it right’s?!” and the “is this good’s?” I swapped my habit of saying “good job!” for a more meaningful approach.

 

Praise Effort Rather Than Results

Focus on recognizing the effort gymnasts put forth, rather than the outcome of the skill. This is sometimes referred to as “process praise” because you are praising the process, rather than the outcome.

You want to teach your gymnasts that their hard work is valued, rather than their completely perfected skill.  

If you only praise the outcome of skills, gymnasts will connect ‘accomplishment’ with ‘perfection’ rather than ‘hard work’ with ‘growth’. You don’t want to create the atmosphere where gymnasts give up on skills when they don’t work out the first time.

Eventually, you want some of your preschool gymnasts to move to team. Higher level skills require tons of repetition.

To be successful in higher level gymnastics, you want gymnasts to practice persistence, maximum effort every time and have a positive attitude. If we praise this type of behavior starting in preschool, we are helping set that gymnast up for success.

Examples of praising effort

     “WOW! I see you working hard, Emma! You are so high on tiptoe!”

     “Cooper, I noticed you fall off of that pommel horse and get right back to on try again, high five!”

     “Maya, I notice you pushing hard on the floor in your handstand! Your muscles are getting stronger!”

 

Get Specific

The problem with “good job!” is that it isn’t actually clear on what you are praising.

Find the specific aspect of the gymnast’s process or attitude that you want to praise. If you are looking for two foot landings, find someone doing that and praise it.  

Giving specific feedback is not only empowering for the gymnast you’re talking to, but also for his peers. The other gymnasts will hear you praising something specific and they will recognize how to improve on that skill. For example, if you say “wow, [gymnast 1], you pulled your knees so tight in your tuck”, [gymnast 2] will likely have a tighter tuck next time she is on that station.

For your youngest gymnasts, specific praise could sound like:

     “Wow Kennedy! Your straddle is so big!”

     “Thank you, Gemma, for helping me put the balls away”

     “You got a drink with your mouth far from the water spout!”

Examples of praising specific effort in an older preschool class:

     “Holy bananas Cameron, I notice you pointed your toes in your straddle jump!”

     “I notice your straight, strong arms in that handstand!”

     “Your legs are super glued together, Ellie! Way to keep tight!”

 

“I Like…” vs. “I Notice…”

Many coaches default to “I like how you ___(did your forward roll)”. It is better than “good job!” but it tends to take all the power away from the child and puts it onto the coach.

If the coach starts with the phrase “I like…”, then it becomes all about what the coach likes, rather than how hard the gymnast is working.

Starting your praise with “I like…” makes the gymnast think about what else she can do to impress and please her coach. You want gymnasts to be thinking about supporting their own independence and working to better their skills for themselves.

When a coach uses “I like…”, it often leads to gymnasts getting a bad case of the “watch me’s!” in a preschool class. Four year olds are natural people pleasers, so they will do whatever it takes for you will watch them.

The goal here is to foster an intrinsic motivation to improve (the child looks within himself to improve), rather than an extrinsic (an outside motivation, in this case, the coach) to improve.

Examples of “I like…”vs. “I notice…”

     “I like your pointed toes” (all about honoring what the coach likes) vs. “I notice your pointed toes” (all about the gymnasts effort).

     “You have your tummy off of the bar, I like that!” vs. “I notice you have your tummy off of the bar! You are working hard!”

 

RIP “Good Job!”

Thank you, friends, for gathering here to say goodbye to an old standby and welcome in a fresh way of praising our littles. It may take a little brain power to get used to this style of praise, but soon it will become second nature. You will see a difference in your classes and your gymnasts.

For that, I say to you:

“I notice you are working hard to try a new way to praise gymnasts in your gym! You really have the best interests of your gymnasts in mind!”

To break a habit, you have to swap one behavior with another. Break your “good job!” habit once and for all and download the “Praise Swap List” for ideas on what to say to gymnasts when all you’ve really got is “good job!”

 Download the “Praise Swap List” Here