Have you or your coaching staff sarcastically said “You are going to hit your head” or “You are going to break your leg” or “You are going to hurt yourself” to a student? Really?

We all know that they are joking when coaches say those comments, but just saying those comments can cause harm.

When we are growing up we all hear our parents say comments like “Don’t run with scissors, you are going to poke your eye out.” And they say these comments because they want to scare us. They want to create an image that the scissors will harm us if we trip and fall. The thought of poking your eye out is scary. And the truth is that there is a very good possibility that if you fall with scissors in your hand, you may poke yourself. There is a small chance that you will poke yourself in your eye, but it could happen. The reason our parents say comments like this is because they want to paint a picture of what could happen and poking yourself in the eye is a scary picture.

As coaches, we don’t realize that when we say those types of comments we are actually scaring our athletes.  Think about this; you have a gymnast that is doing a back walkover on beam. She is a little scared and sometimes she leans to the side and falls on purpose. It is getting to the point where you have lost your patients and both of you are getting frustrated. So you sarcastically say to your gymnast, “If you keep doing your back walkovers like that, you are going to hit your head.” Now at first that comment doesn’t seem too bad until you understand what the gymnast actually heard. The gymnast heard, “I’m going to hit my head on the beam.” So now you have a gymnast that was already scared to do the skill and her coach confirmed her fears by telling her that she’s going to hit her head on the beam.

Now let’s pretend that you are a parent that wants to sign their child up for gymnastics classes. You walk into the gym and the first thing you hear is “You’re going to break your leg”, “You are going to hit your head”, or “You are going to kill yourself”. As a parent, I’m not quite sure I would want my child in a gym where the coaches told their students that they were going to severely hurt themselves.

First of all, if coaches truly believe that their gymnasts will get hurt performing the skill, they should never let their gymnast perform the skill. Secondly, if the coach is being sarcastic, they are unintentionally painting dangerous situations in their gymnasts mind. And gymnasts don’t need to be thinking about breaking body parts, they need to think abut how to perform the skill successfully.

I understand the reason these comments are said, but there are other ways to get our point across. Instead of using comments that try to scare your gymnast, use comments that teach the gymnast how to do the skill safely.

Take the situation with the back walkover previously mentioned. Instead of telling the gymnast they are going to hit their head, try these steps.

1. Have the gymnast go back on low beam, place a pad over the beam, build up mats to reach the beam, or spot the gymnast.

2. Have the gymnast focus on the correction they need to fix.  For example, if they are twisting their hip to the side, have them focus on pulling up and squeezing. Use mental choreography before and during the skill.

3. Build up their confidence by telling them what they are performing correctly.

Let’s face it, if someone told me that I was going to get shocked if I stuck my finger in a light socket…I wouldn’t do it either.