Three Magic Phrases to Use With Nervous Gymnasts

If we put most preschool coach’s style into a font it would be:

ALLLLLL CAPS WITH A MILLION EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! WHOO HOOOOOOO! :) :) :)

Am I right? (I’m personally TOTALLY SUPER FANTASTICALLY guilty of this!! WHOAAAAA!!)

General preschool coach energy is awesome most of the time, but every now and then, we have some gymnasts who are not responsive to a loud, energetic, over the top coach: our sweet little nervous nellie gymnasts.

Meet Their Nervous Needs

Nervous gymnasts are generally pretty timid, intimidated by the gym and the skills you’re doing. The best thing about nervous gymnasts, though, is that they actually love the gym (even though they don’t make a peep while they’re in there). Guaranteed, they chat their parent’s EAR off on the way home.

First things first, when you have a nervous gymnast, it will be helpful to change the MILLION EXCLAMATION POINT preschool teacher approach, and swap it with a gentle, yoga-sih ‘just for you, nervous gymnast’ voice. Get on her eye level and gently chat with her to explain scary skills. Sometimes, even a quick whisper near her ear does the trick. This will make her feel more comfortable and make you more approachable.

Nervous gymnasts are a bit of a challenge to have in class, because they stall out on some pretty basic skills. We all know that they are totally capable of the skill, but their timid nature makes them think otherwise.

Don’t push timid kids through the skill (moreover, don’t push any kid through a skill they don’t want to do).

Try using these phrases to help a nervous gymnast open up and start to take some risks in your class:

1. “Let’s Try It Once, And If You Don’t Like It, We Don’t Have to Do It Again”

This is a great place to start when you’re introducing new skills to the group. Giving your nervous gymnast a choice makes them feel like they have some control (and, they do).

This is tricky, though, because if they do try it and don’t want to do it again, you have to honor that.

It might break your little coaching heart, but it’ll establish trust between you and nervous gymnast which, in the long run, will encourage her to open up more and try new things. Often, when she sees her peers doing the skill, she will continue to do it as well.

Watch her body language and cues about exactly how nervous she really is about the skill. Pick up on things like sweaty hands, facial cues of distress, stiff body position and general resistance (maybe trying to skip a station or drill). As a coach, it is your responsibility to find ways to get her through (or close to) the skill in a comfortable way. Think about different ways to break the skill down, use props or a different spotting technique to support her.

If she tries the skill, make a BIG DEAL out of the fact that she tried it at least once. You can say things like “wow! You were nervous, but you tried it anyway. That’s called being brave!” Let her know you can’t wait to watch her work hard at it again because….

2. “You Can Do Hard Things”

Sometimes, nervous gymnasts see themselves in a certain ‘non risk taker’ way. As a coach supporting her, you’ve got to flip that script and tell her she can do hard things (because...she can!) Literally use that phrase: “I know you can do that forward roll because you can do hard things!”

Create an environment where she knows that you’re right there with her, believing in her. The way nervous gymnasts see themselves in your class can change if you support them in the right way. The skills you ask preschoolers to do can seem intimidating if they’ve never tried or seen them before. Set the tone of class for your nervous gymnast by expecting, expressing and believing she can do hard things.

3. “I See You Working Hard”

This is all about finding little things that your nervous gymnast is getting right and praising that. Sometimes, nervous gymnasts can get defeated if they’re not successful at the exact skill you’re teaching (and everyone else is doing). Show them that they are successful, even at the smallest part of class. Watch for them to work hard, and openly praise them for it. You are looking to build perseverance and work ethic here (not just gymnastics skill development). You want to value their hard work.

It’s All Worth It

Meeting the needs of all of your gymnasts all the time, is always the main goal and timid gymnasts are no exception. They can sometimes test the patience of even the most laid back preschool coach, but changing your language and coaching approach will help support even the most nervous of the nellies. The smile and pride on their face when they go for that scary skill will make it all worth it. IT’LL BE SO SUPER AWESOMELY FANTASTIC, RIGHT PRESCHOOL COACHES?!!!! YEAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!