The Psychological Benefits - Part two of a three part series
You read the last blog post on the physiological benefits of having your child signed up to a regular gymnastics class? Awesome! Now let’s continue and discuss the psychological benefits of enrolling your child in a class with us here at Flicka.
Gymnastics can be considered a source of fear for many young athletes; this could be due to the promotion of the sometimes challenging, unsafe and stressful feelings which are not uncommon as a result of gymnastics practice (1). These feelings are often magnified as a result of the intense pressures placed on gymnasts to succeed or the embarrassment faced from poor performance in competition or practice (1). Due to the exposure of these stressors there is an argument that these are opportunities which lead to the development of specific psychological skills and characteristics that can be translated into behaviour that may be useful throughout a child’s lifetime (1).
1. Physical activity, and more specifically gymnastics can positively affect self-esteem
There is strong evidence for an inverse relationship between muscular fitness and low self-esteem (2). Muscular fitness is mostly described in terms of muscle strength, as such the ability to produce force against resistance (2), which as discussed in the previous blog post is a consequence of regular gymnastics participation, therefore suggesting that there may be a positive correlation with gymnastics and positive self-esteem development. Amac et al (3) describe a notion suggesting that female participation in gymnastics may increase self-esteem due to the feelings of accomplishment, sense of belonging and acquisition of new skills which may offer an explanation for this observation.
A study by Amac et al., (3) discovered that in terms of level of gymnastics participation there was no difference in self-esteem between girls in competitive and recreational gymnastics, this was especially true with girls 6-9 years of age (3). When considering information previously discussed this finding is considered interesting as historically it was believed that competition had the biggest impact on self-esteem, therefore suggesting that any gymnastics participation has a positive impact on a child’s self-esteem development.
Furthering on from gymnastics participation itself, the coach and subsequent coaching style can be seen to be an influencing factor on self-esteem development (4). If a coach communicates in a way which creates a mutually respectful climate this in turn can motivate the gymnasts in their continual strive for mastery (4). This approach helps to enhance positive self-esteem, demonstrating that in addition to gymnastics itself increasing self-esteem, the coaching style utilised has an influential impact on the level of self-esteem gained through gymnastics (4). This advanced level of self-esteem subsequently transfers into training, as children who feel good about themselves tend to be more focused and feel personally safe in such a setting which can contribute to their physical safety, producing athletes who are attentive, more open to correction and generally more in tune with their surroundings (4).
These findings could perhaps begin to explain the difference in self-esteem between those who are recreationally and competitively involved in gymnastics, as perhaps the latter involved face a different style of coaching in an attempt to produce better results, thus being counter-productive and consequently causing a decrease in self-esteem and therefore performance.
Overall, most child development experts agree that the positive development of self-esteem is key to enable children to flourish (3), therefore suggesting that childhood gymnastics participation can be invaluable in self-esteem growth and have a beneficial impact throughout life.
2. Resilience is developed through participation in physical activity
Resilience can be defined as ‘when individuals experience successful adaptation despite hardship, by responding positively to stress’ (1). There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that resilience is an important psychological quality required to attain and perform at high levels in sport (5).
In 2015 White and Bennie (6) investigated gymnast and coach perceptions surrounding the development of resilience through gymnastics participation. Results revealed that particular aspects of the gymnastics environment create stress, thus exposing gymnasts to many challenges, both in training and competition (6). It was found that youth sport participation, especially gymnastics may be an appropriate avenue for the development of resilience (6). This notion has been furthered by McDavitt (1), who suggests that due to the dangerous nature of gymnastics, as well as the pressure generated through competition young athletes are exposed to stress, consequently increasing their resilience (1).
Overall, resilience in childhood is important as resilient kids are more likely to take healthy risks due to the mitigation of the fear of falling short of expectations (7). This characteristic is promoted through the development of curiosity, bravery and trust of their instincts (7). Resilience generated through gymnastics can also help children to navigate stressful situations allowing them to learn that they have the ability to confront difficult issues with the development of an internal message that they are strong and capable (7).
3. Gymnastics has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression
Support surrounding the favourable effects that physical activity has on mental health, especially in terms of reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, is growing with evidence being derived from sources including prospective cohort studies and randomised control trials (8). Regular physical activity, compromising of both cardiovascular and resistance exercise, has many mental health benefits which develop further as long-term exercise participation ensues (9), therefore identifying a possible suggestion that long term gymnastics participation can promote such mental health benefits. The science surrounding how physical activity can psychologically affect mental health can be explained through the increased feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy (9), which as already discussed occurs as a result of recreational gymnastics participation, as such demonstrating a possible link between gymnastics participation (3).
Calmels et al., (10) conducted a study solely based on psychological development in gymnasts and came to the conclusion that positive management of anxiety, whether in training or after injury is specifically apparent in female gymnasts (10). This characteristic, along with many others promoted through gymnastics is believed to develop over time through a combination of different social and personal sources and through both direct and indirect methods of influence including unpleasant social interactions (10).
4. Gymnastics helps children learn to overcome fear and develop mental toughness
For one reason or another fear plays a major role in gymnastics (11). Most often this fear is a result of a perceived risk of injury when competing or learning a new skill (11), or as a result of a past fall or trauma that promotes out of control thinking (12). If a gymnast’s out of control thinking leads to an out of control performance, the most important intervention coaches can do is to help their athletes create more disciplined thinking patterns (12). Due to the formation of this fear gymnasts need to overcome these feelings and are required to adopt a self-enhancing rather than self-defeating perspective, which includes strategies such as: thought stopping, imagery/relaxation and positive self-talk (11). These strategies are promoted throughout gymnastics and children learn to utilise these beneficial mental training skills beyond their gymnastics training with them being valuable transferable life lessons.
Mental toughness is considered by many to be central to sport performance with conclusions from past research suggesting the development of mental toughness is a complicated endeavour involving multiple mechanisms and sources of influence (13). Mental toughness represents the ability of a person to cope with the demands of training and competition and encompasses increased determination, focus, confidence and the maintenance of control under pressure (14). It has been found that mental toughness initiated and nurtured through gymnastics has enabled athletes to overcome fear and regain determination after injury or setbacks (1).
5. Regular extracurricular physical activity enables children and adolescents to successfully control their aggression
Adolescent aggressive behaviours can be positively influenced and shaped by participation in extracurricular activities, including gymnastics (15). Extracurricular activity in the form of sports activities are known as an outlet for psychological stress stemming from unstable relationships and anxiety (15).
Aggression in the younger generation can be seen to have negative consequences that ultimately misguide these individuals to crime, misbehaviour and social maladjustment (16), therefore if we can find a way to control and channel this aggression into a meaningful and worthwhile activity, this could be one way to curb these negative outlets for aggression and affect society in a positive way.
It can be seen that the psychological benefits of gymnastics are very far reaching and influential on a child’s development with just some of the potential benefits to a child’s growth discussed in this blog. These influences are displayed in both recreational and competitive gymnasts establishing the positive effect that gymnastics can have all around, not just on elite participants.
The next blog post will be the last in this series of ‘Why Gymnastics?’ and will be focusing on the Socio-Emotional Benefits of Gymnastics.
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Amac Z, Anastasio N, Morwick A, Yi J. Girls’ Self-Esteem Comparison in Competitive and Recreational Gymnastics . Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254451454_Girls'_Self-Esteem_Comparison_in_Competitive_and_Recreational_Gymnastics
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