There are at least 5 big mistakes that many gymnasts make when going through a mental block and I'm going to tell you what they are.
But first, it's important that you recognize whether or not you're doing these things because these mistakes will perpetuate your mental block. They will prevent you from overcoming your mental block or keep you stuck in a pattern of getting your skill and then losing it again.
So here are those 5 mistakes:
1. Assuming your next practice will be exactly like your last practice
Nothing is more satisfying than when you have those break-through days and you get your skill back. Or maybe you move up on the progression chart and you're that much closer to being able to do your skill alone again.
You're so excited for what you've accomplished and you feel like you're on top of the world.
But then, the next time you go to practice it feels like you're starting from ground zero again. You might not be able to do the same progression of that skill or any part of it. It makes you feel helpless (and hopeless)! And you can't help but wonder if you'll ever get your skill again. You also wonder 'why?'
Well, here's why gymnast. Every time you go to practice you are bringing your brain with you. And your brain isn't living in an isolated room, minding its own business. It's out there with you, searching your environment for potential signs of danger. It's constantly sounding off the alarms or getting ready to flee from danger, fight it, or freeze up to avoid it.
So every time you step into the gym you are a different gymnast depending on what your brain has lived through in the past day/s. I know this is frustrating and in fact, it can be maddening! You feel like you're on this rollercoaster ride that never ends.
The best thing you can do is remember that your brain is like a toddler. It has tantrums along the way and freaks out when it doesn't necessarily have to. If you speak to your brain like a toddler, you can learn how to ease its concerns and get your head back into the gym.
Remember that you are constantly evolving and changing. So it's ok to have one day in the gym when you can do a skill and another day when you can't do your skill to save your life.
This doesn't mean you're going backwards in your quest to get over your mental block.
Repeat after me: "Just because I can't do my skill today, doesn't mean I'm taking steps backwards. Backwards, sideways, and forwards are all part of the journey!"
2. Not trusting your gut when it comes to your own mental block
If there's one thing I want to stress, it's that YOU are the expert on you.
You might not think you know what to do to get through your mental block, but the truth is that you know what feels right and what doesn't, every time you do a skill.
Let that be your guidance system and follow it!
If your coach tells you to do a back handspring on beam without mats and that gives you a pit feeling in your stomach, then that's not the right progression for you yet. You have to dial it back a progression.
If you're standing on beam waiting for what feels like eternity and still can't do your skill, then it's not the right time for you either.
Listen to YOUR inner voice and use it to guide you through your mental block.
Too often you're taught to ignore it because your coach tells you to do something different. And you trust your coach or maybe even fear him/her so you do what you're told.
But it's important that you don't push down your own inner guidance.
Only YOU know what you're thinking and feeling in any moment.
Trust those thoughts and feelings. And then act on them.
Which then brings me to my next point...
3. Not speaking up when something doesn't feel right
Speaking up can be scary. Especially to a coach who may be impatient or strict or mean or "old-school."
But it's important that you use your voice, especially when it comes to your mental block.
If something doesn't feel safe to you, speak up.
If you're asked to do a skill without mats and you find yourself freezing up and standing there for a long time, speak up.
If your gut tells you "no" then you need to SPEAK UP.
Again, speaking up can feel frightening. Especially when you haven't done it before.
But I always tell gymnasts to ask themselves "What's the worse that could happen?"
Maybe the worse that can happen if you speak up is that your coach doesn't listen to you (or really HEAR what you're saying). Or he/she tells you to do your skill anyway. Obviously these are not good responses but by doing so it's allowing you to practice using your voice. And that's an important skill!
The bottom line is that you have a right to speak up and be heard in gymnastics. You need to use that right. And you shouldn't fear doing so.
You, after all, should be the biggest advocate for you.
4. Assuming your coach knows what to do to help you through a mental block
Coaches mean well. They really do.
But if there's one thing they don't really understand, it's mental blocks.
Most of the time they think pushing through your skill is the best method for getting through a block. They might yell at you or bribe you or do something in their power to try to get you to do your skill despite how you're feeling in that moment.
These techniques are NOT effective. In fact, they often make your mental block worse.
So please don't do something that doesn't feel right just because your coach tells you to.
Of course you need to be polite and respectful if you aren't going to do what he/she says. But again, if something isn't feeling right, you need to trust your own inner guidance, speak up about it, and do something different.
This also might mean that you have a talk with your coach at a different time in his/her office and express your feelings and concerns. You can do this with your parents so that everyone is on the same page.
If, at the end of the day, your coach keeps pushing you to do things that you're uncomfortable doing then it's time to reach out to someone who does know how to help you. If you're really stuck on a mental block, the best solution is to seek the advice of a professional like a gymnastics mental coach or sport psychology expert who is well-versed in mental blocks.
5. Chucking your skill and praying for the best
This is NOTHING safe about chucking a skill and praying you'll land on your feet safely.
If you're not ready to do a skill, DON'T DO IT! It's as simple as that.
Now sometimes you might need a little push to do a skill that you're fearful on, but being pushed through a mental block is a whole different thing.
So how do you know the difference between being a little scared to do something versus not being ready to do the skill at all?
Your fear factor.
If it petrifies you to think about doing the skill you're blocked on, then you're not ready to do it.
On the other hand, if it gives you some nervous butterflies then you're probably in need of that nudge.
Regardless, ask for a spot if you need one and don't keep pushing through a skill that isn't feeling right. Remember Simone Biles at the 2020 Summer Games? She pushed through her first vault and while she landed on her feet, she easily could have landed on her head. She had the courage to realize that her skills weren't feeling safe instead of continuing to chuck and pray!
So those are 5 of the biggest mistakes that gymnasts make when going through a mental block. All of them are fixable although some might require a shift in your mentality. Remember that YOU know best when it comes to yourself. If something feels "off" then you must honor that feeling and learn how to speak up about it. While your coach is an expert in many things, he/she is not an expert on you. So always follow your inner guidance and trust yourself through this journey.
If you're going through a mental block, know that there is hope! I'm here rooting for you and excited to see the blessings you'll gain from going through this experience. If you have any comments, please let me know below and I will answer back!
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Resources: Get gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics