by Gino Perrotte
MA, Interpersonal Communication
Gymcert Certified Gymnastics Coach
This Memorial Day I visited with several longtime friends. Talking about our younger years reminded me of the sport that played a crucial role in my life for so long.
I’ve been involved many ways in the sport of gymnastics over the past 25 years: as an athlete, a coach, a gym manager, and a fan. I’ve had the fortune of working with Olympic-level coaches and medal-winning athletes. I’ve worked with gymnasts of varying levels of abilities and disabilities. I’ve learned a lot from these experiences: participating in the sport of gymnastics can help you develop important life skills. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.
10. Losing is sometimes winning. Did you win a silver medal or lose a gold one? It’s our expectations for ourself that can determine how we view a result. An athlete who is considered an underdog will rejoice at winning any medal while the competition favorite might view anything less than gold as a failure. As with a competition, there are many variables that determine our outcomes in life. Perhaps it’s our own perspectives that need to be reframed in order for us to see ourselves as winners.
9. The real competition is with yourself. And the challenge is for the athlete to outperform herself or himself on the competition floor… To be better than he or she is in practice. As in life, you will not be able to easily (or perhaps ethically) control how others perform. You will have the most control over yourself.
8. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. It’s easy to compare yourself to other athletes. Some athletes are better at one event than another. Some are better at twisting than flipping. So use your strengths to innovate and create things that have never been done before. The ultimate legacy in the sport is to perform a brand new skill in a major competition and have it named in your honor. Do what you do best in life as well. Serve others with your unique talents. This leads into the next lesson…
7. Someone else will be better than you. No matter how good you are, eventually someone will surpass you. It’s evolution. As famous and brilliant as Nadia Comaneci is for her multiple perfect performances in the 1976 Olympic Games, the athletes today warm up with much of what was her top-notch competitive routines. Our success may serve as inspiration for other people who might achieve more than we are able to. While there are many ways you could respond to this, perhaps this is the healthiest: Appreciate when someone else can do something exceptional.
6. Perfection is subjective. I can think of numerous examples of when gymnasts have performed flawlessly (in my opinion), and yet have not been awarded perfect scores (Shannon Miller’s first vault in the 1992 Olympic All-around Competition and Mckayla Maroney’s vault in the 2012 Olympic Team Competition).
5. Windows of opportunity exist. Every gymnast knows that there’s an expiration date to their athletic career (unless you’re 6-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina). Whether an injury ends your career prematurely or you simply age-out, it’s important to remember that for the large majority of us some opportunities are available only for a short time. If you want to have a shot at making something happen, now may be the best time to pursue it.
4. Sometimes you’ll have to work through pain. Learning new and even maintaining current gymnastics tricks takes lots of work and many hours of practice. Many athletes have aches and pains such as tendinitis that accompany their careers. To achieve, gymnasts learn to manage pain and rise above it to deliver excellent performances. Kerri Strug’s famous vault landed-on-one-leg at the 1996 Olympic Games is one of many examples of when a gymnast has looked past pain in pursuit of her or his goal.
3. Never give up. You will make mistakes. But it’s not over until it’s over. Shannon Miller’s performance in the 1996 US Championships illustrates this well. Shannon started the competition with a fall and major wobble on balance beam. However, she managed to stick the dismount and stay mentally strong for the other three near-perfect events.
2. The current moment matters because it is setting you up for the next thing. Be present in the moment and give full attention to what needs to be immediately done well in order to reach your overall goal. Gymnasts know that you need to approach a routine one skill at a time giving focus to the trick you are executing right now. When you focus on the now, it makes it easier to put past mistakes behind you and “start over new” with each skill. Yes, deductions within a routine add up. But the overall performance also leaves a big impression on the judges. It is also crucial in a series of skills that each one is technically correct so that you begin the following skill in the correct body position. The current skill directly impacts the ones arriving in the immediate future. In life, the current moment is the most valuable as it is the only one that we are alive in and have the power of action within. We can make subtle or substantial corrections to fix our current mistakes and get our future back on track with our desired outcome.
1. Your success is the product of an entire support system. Gymnasts usually begin the sport as young children backed by the sacrifices of family members, groomed by an array of coaches and gym programs, and inspired by heroes. While you are alone for the performance of your routine, you are not alone in your success. If you find yourself atop the medal stand, then you are backed by all of those who helped you to achieve. And of course, life is the same way. Family, teachers, mentors, and friends have all helped to shape who you are and the path you’ve taken. While you are ultimately responsible for the outcome of your life, all of us impact one another in some way.
These are the major life lessons that I’ve learned from my years of participating in the sport of gymnastics. And I’m sure that I will realize even more connections as I continue my life journey with the goal of making the most of every opportunity.
What lessons has your sport taught you?