Barre gymnastic coaches reflect on mental aspects of their sport

Local News

By now you’ve probably heard the stunning news that Simone Biles, considered the best gymnast of all time, dropped out of the gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympics due to mental stress.

A local gymnastics studio in Barre is encouraging a healthy mindset to their young athletes. At Sunrise Gymnastics, competitive gymnasts start at age six. Their homeschool group consists of the girls who are in the higher levels, eight and nine. The best level is ten. 

Jozef Safko says it’s an overall challenging sport. The girls — who, he said, “live and breathe gymnastics all the time” — train in valut, uneven bars, beam and floor. 

“Physical strength becomes mental as well,” Jozef Safko said. “But the better you get the more competition you go to, higher quality competition you go to. So you learn and know how to perform.”

Sunrise owner and coach Wendy Safko said making sure the girls are mentally healthy starts with training. 

“Every time we train we tell them to do their best, give your best shot, try your best,” Wendy Safko said. 

Wendy Safko said it wasn’t too surprising that Biles withdrew from the Olympics. Even at that level, she said, to be mentally and physically successful requires plenty of emotional support from coaches and family. 

“With the Olympics , especially Toyoko, you don’t have the support,” she said. “You don’t have the audience there. You feed off everyone’s energy. So I think that could kind of effect it. 

“I think as a coach as long as you are proud of them, the girls will feel it too.”

Andrew Rosenfeld, a family psychiatrist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, said there is pressure in all competitive sports. 

“I think one recent science piece that we learned about is the idea of growth mindset vs fixed mindset,” Rosenfeld said. “Growth mindset being the attitude to encourage kids. It’s not if you are good at a sport or not, it is how hard you are trying.” 

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