Nastia Liukin’s 5 Tips for Parents of Budding Gymnasts

07/28/2012 at 12:00 PM ET
Dave Hogan/NBC/Getty

Is your little one is practicing cartwheels, trying on leotards and dreaming of Olympic Gold? If so, gymnast Nastia Liukin has some advice for you.

The five-time Olympic medalist is in London for the 2012 Summer Games as a spectator, fan and expert. Liukin, who has partnered with Fisher-Price to promote their new interactive Fantastic Gymnastics Dora doll, has made it her mission to help inspire youngsters to achieve their athletic goals.

It all starts with the child, but parents play an important role in the lives of their budding young Olympic hopefuls.

Liukin, 22, shares her top five pieces of advice for parents of young athletes with PEOPLE.

1. Encourage your child to dream big

“I’ve always been a true believer in setting goals and dreaming big, and it’s never too early,” says Liukin. “So many little girls and boys are going to be watching the Olympics this summer and if parents see a spark of curiosity, they should definitely encourage it.”

2. Help your little one stay focused — in a fun way

“I always give the advice of keeping a vision board with images of your current goals,” says Liukin, who created her own board with pictures of the medals being awarded at the Beijing Olympics when she was competing. She ultimately won five medals. “This is something that I always did because having that visual helped me to stay focused on what I wanted to accomplish.”

3. Set short and long-term goals

“Always set goals for [kids],” says Liukin. “Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. You should always be striving to achieve something to feel accomplished. And it’s so important to always finish what you started. Success doesn’t happen overnight and you have to work hard for it every single day.”

4. Help your child balance sports with an outside life

“My parents always cared more about the person I would grow to be, rather than what I would accomplish as a professional gymnast,” says Liukin, who says it was tricky to make sure she maintained a social life outside the gym.

“I remember that there were times when my friends would go places or do things and I didn’t because I had training the next day at 8 a.m. For so many people, competing at the Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you must take every chance you get to give it your best effort. That being said, on the weekends, I did make sure to set aside the time to hang out with friends and do things outside of gymnastics.”

5. Make sure it’s your child — and not you — who really wants to be a gymnast (or a pole vaulter, runner, swimmer or any kind of athlete)

“It’s so important to make sure that your daughter or son has a passion for the sport, whether it’s gymnastics or a different sport,” she says.

“Sometimes you see the parents wanting their children to become Olympic champions more than the actual child. That’s when it becomes an issue, and unfortunately you probably won’t be successful. It [won’t work] if the kid doesn’t want to be doing it. The number one thing a parent can do is to be supportive, encouraging and loving to their child.”

Courtesy Mattel

— Marla Lehner

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , News , Parenting

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Showing 38 comments

Lauren on

I love Nastia! She’s such an inspiration!

Sue on

Those are great tips! My daughter was involved in competing up through age 17 through a gymnastic club and just loved it. She gained great friendships from the girls that had the same goal in common. It keeps their mind focused on themselves and their team and away from the hassles of boyfriends, drama and peer pressure. Now she teaches it to the little girls and could not be happier with this part-time job.

Stylista on

How about “Don’t let your daughter embarrass herself by attempting a comeback when she didn’t prepare or train for it.” Unfortunately, she didn’t take that piece of advice.

usafan on

That is such an unnecessary and shallow comment. If you don’t have anything nice to say then you should say nothing at all.

keegan on

Its funny ’cause she’s already a world famous Olympian and you’re just a person with a computer. Cute.

Kristen on

Stylista, she did prepare and train for it. She just hadn’t been able to train as much as she would have liked to. And since when is it a crime to go after your dreams? Nastia is a true champion, and she gave these kids a valuable lesson in never giving up. She in no way embarrassed herself. Have some respect!

Anonymous on

Stylista…you are such a bitch!

swimGirl12 on

Really?!?! She is an amazing gymnast and just cause she didn’t make the Olympics doesn’t change that. get a life and stop.making rude and insensitive comments.

April on

At least she gave it a shot!! What have you ever done! Nastia is an inspiration I’m proud to have my daughters look up to! Take your negativity elsewhere!!!

Dawn on

Look at that cute little doll! I would so want one right now if I were a little girl! Great tips for parents of athletes. Focus and fun….it’s got to be a blend of both!

Penny on

Stylista – what a nasty, hateful remark. You sound like a miserable person.

Sara on

I agree, at least she had the courage to go up and give it a try… I love Nastia and think she’s a great role model for aspiring young gymnasts!!

Beebop on

What a great article, and completely true! My cousin is extremely talented and was told more than once if she worked hard enough, she could represent the USA in the Olympics! However, by the age of 12, her interest in gymnastics began to wane and despite the hopes my aunt had her for, she allowed her to quit gymnastics. My cousin is now 20 and is so relieved she quit when she did and has no regrets!

Liz on

Wow Stylista…you make it sound so easy…let’s see you try to do something of that caliber…rather than talk trash. She tried, she failed, that’s part of life. She had the balls to try and yet you hate on her like its so easy.

kimmie on

OMG I first thought she is pregnant when I first logged in the site!

totally getting this doll for my lil dora-addict / gymnast this christmas

Marky on

Stylista, what happened to “parents should teach their daughter manners and kindness toward others.” a lesson which you apparently missed, or your parents never taught you! Nastia is a local girl, (I live 5 blocks from WOGA), and most of the people around here know her and her parents through local gymnastics, as well as world’s. Nastia is accomplished and liked, as are her parents, both as people and coaches.

Obviously, you aren’t very familiar with the sport of gymnastics or you would know that ANYONE can have a bad day or bad meet, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough to have tried. Her parents MAY have said, “Don’t go for it”, but in the end it was Nastia’s choice; she went for it and didn’t win. She may have learned so many life lessons from her years in gymnastics that had nothing to do with learning to win. Exactly how many winners are in any event? One. And that one is chosen from a group of girls who are all winners; they just can’t all win that day! You really need to learn: If you can’t say something nice……..

blazenglory on

#5 is so true and unfortunately so ignored. I see parents all the time living through their child. As a therapist I also see how it affects them negatively.

Mommytoane on

Lets think about things. How many times in your life have you given advice for something that you have learned from? The way I see it, she learned from her mistakes, and is trying to help others by teaching them to learn as well. If you make a mistake, and don’t do anything to correct it that’s one thing. But when you learn from your mistake and become a better person for it. That’s a totally different story. There really is no such thing as perfect and anyone who thinks they are, is completely ignorant to the world around them.

akaye23 on

That is all great advice! Especially #5!

Tyler on

Stylista is a hater!

Suzanne123 on

You have some growing up to do, clearly! Nastia is an idol to thousands of girls and showed great sportsmanship at the trials! Shame on you.

Fred on

Stylista is just one of a group of people that seem to “hate” Nastia and only want to say negative things about her. They are mad because she had the nerve to win an AA Olympic Gold Medal that was supposed to belong to her teammate. They hate Marta, Nastia, Gabby Douglas and most anything else about USA Gymnastics. Of course all of them are experts in judging the competition and serve as international judges (So not true). They are mad because she had the “nerve” to try a come back and remains in the spot light for gymnastics. Thanks to everyone for calling them out.

Wesker on

Stylista is a huge bitch.

Wesker on

Stylista = giant bitch

Stylista on

I stick by what I said. I have always liked her as a gymnast and enjoyed watching her, but it was obvious at tryouts she was out of shape and out of practice and should never have competed. It was a terrible last performance, and if people don’t like the truth, sorry.

JRW on

Y’all her “name” is Stylista… can’t take her too seriously…

Wesker on

Stylista is obviously a fat cow with some jealousy/envy issues.

meghan on

Stylista, you really come across as someone with an ax to grind, not a person just trying to be honest. At least admit it and don’t act like you are the bearer of truth.

Seriously?!? on

Ignore Stylista. She’s nothing but a troll, trying to get a rise out of everyone.

Nastia seems so great. Talented and sweet. Great role model for girls. 🙂

Piret on

Love the tips and will be using same with my 5 year old little gymnast.

Stylista – what a loser comment did you just make? get a life.

JessicaB on

there are VERY FEW elite athletes. think of all the people you have known in your life. how many of them were olympic athletes? its nt enough to have natural talent. you need money to fund your sport, drive to get to the top, access to high level coaches and training facilities, luck that you don’t get injuried, etc.

my kids were on swim team for years. so many parents thought their little darlings were going to the olympics. not a one of them did. i use to say, “swim because you love it”. when it wasn’t fun anymore they stopped. i was actually glad. to me, its better to be well rounded nd be good at different things, rather than fabulous at one thing and not able to do anything else or have an understanding of the world.

at some point you have to get out of the pool, or leave the gym. then what?

JM on

JessicaB i agree, nothing should consume your child’s life. and if you can, encourage them to explore various interests, they don’t have to be the best at one particular thing. the important thing is always that it’s fun.

i went to a very tough, academically high achieving school. it has given me some great opportunities and generally put me above my peers academically and opened some doors for me. but i often look back on my teenage years and struggle find memories that didn’t involve school somehow.

my weekends and a lot of my free time was all too often spent with school books, and i didn’t even particularly struggle in any subject. it was just what was expected of kids in my school and what we were told to do.

like i said, i can appreciate the things it has given me, but i sometimes wonder whether i would have been happier with a greater balance in my life of more non-academic activities and a greater variety of things in my life.

Stella Bella on

I love the idea of a vision board, and I like it even more when I think about putting up goals that are family related (as opposed to a child’s sports goals). I think she offered advice that could be tailored to anyone who wants to achieve something.

Erika on

I think Nastia gives great advice! She seems like a very nice person, and I really enjoyed watching her in the 2008 Olympics.

JessicaB- I couldn’t agree more! I knew a few kids throughout school who basically did nothing but their sport of choice. It started as fun and when they started to get sick of it, they’re parents would tell them to keep going because they would likely get scholarships. But how many of them actually made careers out of sports? Zero.

One girl I went to high school with was a very talented soccer player and she really thought she would go far with it. Until one day she broke her leg playing soccer. It was a very long recovery, and she was never able to play the same again. It was awful because all of her dreams were crushed because of one injury. She had a really hard time finding other stuff to keep her busy because she had been so consumed with soccer. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t play sports seriously because of the risk of injury, but they should have some other interests too, incase it doesn’t work out.

All that said, every athlete in the 2012 Olympics is amazing and should be proud of their achievement. I’m so glad they all get to fulfill their dreams, whether they win big or not.

Shannon on

Look at the little gymnasts. So adorable.

Britt on

Nastia! ❤

I have been a fan of her for years, and she seems to have a good head on her shoulders – and also a good attitude.

Great tips, too.

Allison on

Love her, one of my favorite gymnasts!

Cute picture too!

Cora on

While I know everyone has been calling Stylista out on the mean comments, I have my own two cents to add. Personally, I find it very inspiring that she tried for the Olympics again. Yes, the chances weren’t very high, and she could have just ended her career on a high note after the 2008 Olympics. But she decided to try again, and even though she fell on bars, she picked herself back up, and finished her routine. The fact that she made it all the way to the Olympic trials again is very impressive! I respect any and all gymnasts (and people in general) who reach for their dreams, and try again, even if the chances aren’t likely.