I was fortunate to meet 16 year old Bronze medal-winning Olympic gymnast Amy Tinkler yesterday at a “press call”. I wasn’t mean to be there, but I’m very thankful I was!
Amidst all the media presence yesterday Amy remained calm and appeared confident; though emotional on her initial return to her gym. Hardly surprising with the energy in the room… I was filled with pride myself and I’m just a member of public she’s never met before.
Did the confidence come from it just being “just press” I mean, when you’ve performed in front of the world talking to a few cameras would be easy right? The sports world is a different place to how it used to be. Amy told me she has access to a psychologist and though I didn’t ask, I’m certain she (and others in the gym) had had media training to ensure she came across well and only said what she’d been prepped to say. The protection this offers her is amazing and is probably the reason she wasn’t overwhelmed by the whole experience.
I was waiting nearly 2 hours to talk to Amy myself. She’d had the same conversations with journalists from the likes of BBC & ITV television, BBC & other regional radio stations and I was also there representing Families. She took it all in her stride, and then I threw a curve ball by asking some different questions!
I wanted to know more about how she deals with it mentally, after all as a Relax Kids Coach my job is to pass on calming techniques and build confidence, so what better way than to get a few tips! Here’s what she had to say.
How do you stay focused
“I think you just grow up in that environment. At the gym everyone is so focused and share the same goal – to be successful. Mine this last year has been to represent #TeamGB in the Olympics.” I noted that her goal was to represent #TeamGB there were no expectations within this that allow her to fail. Whether she had won a medal or not she would be home having achieved her goal!
Do you have any mantras, things you repeat to yourself to either stay calm or feel confident?
“Yeah, you’ll see from videos before any performance I say something to myself, I honestly don’t know what it is but it’s the same thing every time!” (I think she probably does, but it already felt really intrusive so I wasn’t going to push her or try and find out!)
Your mantra needs to be personal to you. It can start off in little ones with something as simple as “I am special” and develop as they get older. This applies also if you’re not used to talking to yourself in this way! Start off small and as you feel more confident doing it, which you will, you’ll find you adapt and personalise your own mantra, or inner voice.
What keeps you believing in yourself?
She’s been at the gym for so long that it’s become ingrained. The positive words, the support, the encouragement have made up her inner voice and she has no reason to doubt that.
“My coaches just motivate me so much and give me so much support. I think if everyone has the support they can be amazing in whatever they want to do.”
How do you prepare the night before your competitions?
“The night before I visualise all my routines, run through them a few times whilst I’m laid in bed.”
I was explaining this to children in my Olympic Adventures summer club. By visualising what you need to do you allow yourself chance to mentally prepare and are also setting the intention of doing it well; whether you’re about to jump off a diving board for the first time or go into an important meeting or exam. You can even go one further and really engage with the feelings you will have whilst doing it and how you feel after!
What do you do to relax, completely switch off at the end of the day?
“To relax after winning my medal I visited my family who were in Rio, chatted and chilled out. Then we have a psychologist who teaches us ways to relax, take your mind off things and help us sleep, which has been a huge part over the last few weeks. Staying in the village is loud & there’s people who finish comps after the first few days who are out partying for the rest of the Olympics.”
She told me has relaxation music and guided visualisations to listen to when it’s time to sleep, a signal that the day’s work is done.
You said you weren’t nervous before your performance, can you explain what you do feel?
“I don’t get nervous in comps, I just go out and enjoy it. Others do and we have a psychologist who gives us tips to control the nerves, using deep breathing and visualisations.
Pressure makes you so much more nervous, and gymnastics is a sport where one tiny mistake can be the difference between first and last place. For example on beam if you’re nervous and a bit shakey you can be a bit off when landing a jump so you need to keep it under control.
It really helps having your coach saying “you can do this, you’ve got it, go for it”.”
And how about that medal?
“It’s really special to me <the medal itself>. I wore it all the way back on the plane.”
Sometimes we need something physical to ground us. To remember what it’s all about. In Relax Kids sessions we usually offer something to take away, on the longer block sessions we can build up a whole treasure chest of items that help us in one way or another. Whether it’s a feather to practise deep breathing, an affirmation reminder, a special pebble is usually a favourite too – something you can keep in your pocket to work around in your hand when feeling nervous, or it may be a special trophy that’s been won to remind us we can do it too!
Your mum has been here all morning but has stayed away from the cameras. How have your parents supported you?
“They’ve never put any pressure on me, going in to the final they said to me “just go out and enjoy it, it’s the Olympics, you may never get the experience again. Just enjoy every single moment of it.” Which is what she did.
The balance between being supportive and putting pressure on someone is very fine. There have been studies of school pupils which show that those pupils who feel pressure tend to feel more stress and anxiety and don’t necessarily perform better because of it either.
At Relax Kids we promote the sentiment that children (and adults!) should be the best version of themselves that they can be. We teach that self-empathy is an important skill, we’re all different, unique in our own ways and undoubtedly special; that alone is reason to celebrate!