Helping young athletes flex their resilience muscles
By Greg Bach
Jordyn Wieber’s rise to gymnastics glory – she was part of the potent Team USA squad dubbed the Fierce Five that won gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics – was powered by countless wobbles and falls along the way.
And the 2011 all-around world champion is grateful for every single one of those miscues.
“I learned so many things from gymnastics and the No. 1 thing I learned was how to be resilient,” Wieber told us in an exclusive interview. “And you can’t figure out how to be resilient unless things don’t go your way 100 percent of the time.”
VIEW A CLIP OF OUR CONVERSATION WITH JORDYN WIEBER DISCUSSING HOW YOUNG ATHLETES DEVELOP RESILIENCE
It can be an unpleasant lesson for young athletes to learn – and their parents to watch them go through – but the long-term rewards are plentiful.
“It’s so valuable to figure out how to fail and keep moving forward,” says Wieber, the head women’s gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas.
FALLING, FAILING, AND LEARNING
Just like every young gymnast learning how to navigate the wicked challenges of the balance beam, falling off was a regular occurrence for her as she began her journey in the sport.
“You can imagine that when you are learning how to do things on the balance beam you have to fall off a lot of times before you figure out how to stay on,” Wieber says. “I was experiencing these mini failures every time I fell and got back up. And each time I got back up I was flexing my resilience muscle. So when I started getting older and maybe I fell in a big competition I had developed resilience and I knew how to keep moving forward and get back on the beam and keep trying because of all those little tiny moments of resilience I went through growing up.”
Check out what else Wieber shared with us to help you have a positive impact on your young athletes:
Pulling out the passion: “Athletes are going to be more motivated and they are going to love it more if you are encouraging and motivated as a coach,” Wieber says. “Growing up I had some good coaches and some who weren’t as nice, and I look back and really appreciate the coaches who were really motivating and encouraging to me and helped bring out that passion in me. They challenged me and didn’t just say ‘good job’ all the time, but they would say ‘I know you’ve got more in you so let’s see how much more you can do.’”
Constructive combination: Encouraging words sprinkled throughout practices are incredibly powerful for many reasons. “When they feel uplifted and are like ‘my coach recognizes that I am doing this really good’ they’re going to be more open to listening to something I say like ‘you need to get your legs a little straighter on the next one,’” Wieber says. “Even if it’s not something like ‘you’re doing this skill really well’ but ‘hey, I really appreciated your attitude today. You had a lot of great energy and you encouraged your teammates today.’ Pointing out the things they are doing well along with the things they need to work on, to me, is a really good combination and it allows you to build a relationship with the kids – and you’ll get more out of them that way, for sure.”
Savoring the pressure: “I was the type of athlete that from a young age the more pressure there was the better I did because I loved the challenge,” Wieber says. And she encourages young athletes to embrace all aspects of the sports they love.
“Once you figure out what it is that you love just embrace the pressure and embrace the challenge and know that it might go great, or it might not go great, and that’s OK,” she says. “When I went up on that balance beam and I was a little bit shaky because I was nervous I thought ‘just relax and be confident and embrace this opportunity that you have to do gymnastics and to perform.’ And I feel like if more kids can let go of ‘what if – what if I fall’ and instead of focusing on the negative parts of the pressure focus on the positive parts because the pressure is going to be there either way. So just learn to embrace it a little bit.”
Identifying your Why? “I think it’s really important that coaches really figure out why are you coaching in the first place,” Wieber says. “Where is that coming from? What is your why? Thinking ‘this athlete has to perform better because I’ll look better’ is not the way to go about things. So, I think if more coaches can let their ego go and focus on ‘how am I developing this human being?’ and ‘how am I helping them get ready for life?’ then we’ll have a lot more great coaches in the world.”
Life lessons: “I am a firm believer that sports are the best way to learn life lessons,” Wieber says. “I think starting that from a really young age is so valuable and I think if you can encourage youth to get out there, get active, and do what they love to do – and also push themselves to face adversity and overcome obstacles – it sets you up for life.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance