When we began our competitive gymnastics journey with my younger daughter, I had no idea what we were in for. That first year was a giant rollercoaster of big ups (she placed third on her team at her first ever competition) and major downs (she placed dead last out of her entire level a few months later).
I worked hard to not project my feelings and emotions onto her, other than to let her know how super duper proud I was of her hard work. I let her lead the way, even when my soul felt crushed by her scores.
It wasn't until she came out of a competition and walked over to me, her head hung low and tears dripping down her cheeks, that I knew we needed to do something. Despite scoring higher than she had in the previous two competitions, she was disappointed to yet again watch another teammate take home the big team trophy.
I reassured her I was proud of her and she was getting better, but those tears broke my heart. I had been able to stay on the sidelines so long as she was happy and excited about competing. When she started feeling down about it, I knew something had to change.
My mind raced with questions: Why were her scores going down? What was it about her performances that earned the lower scores even though she didn't have any falls or big bumbles? Why were her teammates, who she had been on par with at the beginning on the season, passing her by? What could we do to help?
These were the questions I took to one of her coaches, who was very reassuring and confirmed my own suspicions: My extremely bendy girl who can do all the big skills is just too wiggly – the exact reason we enrolled her in gymnastics to begin with. At the lower levels, the big moves don't matter so much. The judges are looking for body control. It's all the in between wiggles that effect the scores.
Throughout the season, I had noticed her little eyes darting from here to there while competing, not paying attention to her task at hand but instead watching what others were doing. I’d see it in practice, too. She'd constantly watch the other girls rather than focusing on her body and routines – and that’s when she’d get wiggly.
So, we began working on it. We would head to the backyard regularly and go over her routines. I didn't correct her form. I simply counted her wiggles. She'd get excited when there were only a few and, if she'd wiggled a lot, she'd demand to do it again so she could be better. Sometimes I would even do the routine so she would count my wiggles.
I decided to introduce her to the power of the F-Word and how she could use it to her advantage. I'd tell her before she practiced: "Remember the F-Word!" and she'd giggle or nod confidently. I started giving her little pep-talks before competitions: "Don't forget the F-Word! Picture that big trophy at the end of the beam, in front of you on the floor, on the top bar and at the end of the vault. Don't worry about anything else!" We even had a special signal I could give her through the gym windows from the lobby to signal, "Think about the F-Word!"
The F-Word became a sort of mantra for us to help remind her of one thing:
Amazingly, it worked. She started scoring in her team's top three again, even though the team had nearly doubled in size over the course of the season. She achieved all-time high scores and placed in the top tier of her level despite being one of the youngest. I saw her confidence bloom before my eyes. The joy of gymnastics returned to her.
There’s no doubt that my daughter's gymnastics journey will continue to have many more ups and downs. I know more tears will streak her face. But I'm happy to know we have found a powerful tool to help propel her forward and keep her from giving up: the F-Word.