5 Mistakes You're Making With Your Gymnast's Mental Block - Stick It Girl Blog

A mental block in gymnastics can be frustrating for your gymnast to endure. And inevitably that makes it tough for you, as her parent, to navigate. Your gymnast wants to move past this mental block. You want her mental block to be gone. And you'll practically do anything to help your gymnast get through it so you can put it behind you and move forward. 

Unfortunately, unless you truly understand what a mental block is, you might be doing things that make it worse for your gymnast!

I talk to so many parents (and coaches) who are confused as to what a mental block is and so they utilize strategies they think will help, but aren't really addressing the right issue. In a nutshell, the issue of a mental block isn't lack of motivation or fear (although fear can develop as a result of a mental block). It's something deeper such as feelings of pressure or inadequacy or low self-worth. Therefore it's important not to do anything that will make your gymnast feel any more of these issues.

Below I've listed out some common things you might say to your gymnast when she's going through a mental block that aren't helpful.

 

Scan the list below and see if you are doing any of these things when your gymnast goes through a mental block. If so, STOP doing them!

1. Trying to motivate your gymnast with some sort of prize or reward if she does her skill again

This might sound like: 

Mental Blocks in gymnastics - what not to say to your gymnast - Stick It Girl Blog

  

This is one of the most common methods I see. And I will assure you that even if it seems to work in the short-term, it will not be effective in the long-term. The reason is because your gymnast isn't purposely NOT trying to do her skill. She CAN'T do it because her brain is putting on the brakes. 

Once again, her mental block is not for lack of trying or because of a lack of motivation issue. It's something she does not have control over and as such, trying to motivate her will not help her do her skill. 

So remember this the next time you try to "bribe" or "reward" your gymnast with something she really wants. In the end, she won't be able to get the thing she wants AND she'll still be unable to do her skill. It's a double negative!

 

2. Punishing her if she doesn't do or at least try her blocked skill.

This might sound like:

What not to do when your gymnast is going through a mental block - do not punish her or threaten her

 

This is the second most used tactic to get gymnasts to do their mental blocks and it is also not effective at helping your gymnast get her blocked skill back for the long term. 

Why? Because, once again, your gymnast's brain is in charge and has decided to put the brakes on and stop her from doing her skill. 

When you add a threat or throw in a punishment in the hopes that it might motivate your gymnast to do her skill, you're adding fuel to the already burning fire. You're basically making her feel more unsafe because she knows she can't control the outcome and yet now there is an even bigger threat waiting for her if she doesn't throw her skill.

So please don't threaten to take something away if your gymnast doesn't do her blocked skill. And this goes without saying, but don't involve holiday gifts or Elf on the Shelf as punishment. Taking away gifts or tying her lack of doing her skill to the removal of a fun holiday activity should be avoided at all costs!

 

 3. Asking her why she isn't doing her skill? 

This might sound like:

What not to do if your gymnast has a mental block - don't question why

 

When your gymnast goes through a mental block she's really confused. She doesn't know why she can't do her skill. She wants to and yet she can't do it. So pointing out that she could do her skill the other day (or at her last meet) and can't do it now will only make her more upset.

Again, not doing her skill is NOT a choice! She WANTS to do her skill.

If you think about it this way, your gymnast loves gymnastics and wants to be good at it. She eats, sleeps, and breaths gymnastics. Then one day, she suddenly can't do a skill she's been doing for a long time and isn't sure why. It makes her sad, confused, depressed, and/or wanting to quit gymnastics. She's now wanting to quit a sport she absolutely loves!

Then you come along and ask why she isn't doing her skill?! 

Yes, this is confusing. You're confused. But so is she. She doesn't have control over this situation and it's scary. Remember Simone Biles at the 2020 Olympics? She couldn't understand why all of a sudden she could no longer vault or do her bar dismount or tumbling passes. She was at the Olympics! She's the GOAT. And she couldn't do skills she's been practicing her whole life.

If you went up to her and said "I just don't understand. You did these skills last week. Why aren't you doing them now?" how do you think she would feel? More confused! More upset! 

So please don't add insult to injury. Your gymnast doesn't know why she can't do her skill. That's why it's a mental block!

 

4. Assuming your gymnast isn't trying.

This might sound like:

What not to do when your gymnast is going through a mental block - Assume she's not trying 

Believe me when I say your gymnast is "trying" really hard. But it's nearly impossible to go against her brain's survival instinct. And all of this "trying" is literally sucking the life out of your gymnast.

Of course she wants to do her skill even if sometimes it might seem like she's avoiding the skill.

This, again, is her survival mechanism kicking in. Her brain is trying to keep her safe and sometimes this might look like not taking a lot of turns on her skill or making a bee line to the bathroom when it's time to work on her blocked skill. These are instinctual responses and they are outside of her control, especially if she isn't aware that this is happening in her brain.

Mentioning that coach knows she can do it or that you, as her parent, have confidence in her may make things worse because it feels like added pressure for her to do her skill. Right now she doesn't feel able to do her skill and so not doing it can also feel like she's disappointing you.

 

5. Comparing your gymnast to other gymnasts.

This might sound like: What not to say to your gymnast during a mental block - Stick It Girl Blog

 

When you compare your gymnast to other gymnasts, it can actually de-motivate her. She knows full well what the other gymnasts in her gym are doing. Even if she's seen a gymnast she knows go successfully through a mental block, she still doesn't know how to get through it herself. So making her even more aware of other gymnasts' successes will only deflate her sense of self-worth more.

While it might be tempting to compare her to other gymnasts in the gym, refrain from doing so. Just because Eva lost her skill and is doing it now, doesn't help your gymnast learn how to navigate through her own mental block. And while you think you might be giving your gymnast hope, you're actually doing the opposite. 

It also isn't helpful to say things like "Look how hard Penelope is trying" because again, this isn't a motivation issue.

What gets tricky here is that sometimes you are simply pointing out something that might have worked for the other gymnast in the hopes that your gymnast will be on board with trying that same thing out (i.e. going through a mental training program, working with a mental coach, etc). But in reality, if you as her parent think something might be helpful, it's best to just sign your gymnast up for it. Most gymnasts who feel hopeless assume nothing will work for them. So waiting for her permission to be on board with the "solution" might never happen.

 

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to realize that a mental block is a deep rooted struggle that isn't because of a lack of motivation or lack of trying on your gymnast's part. If you can remember this, you can then get to the heart of her mental block and work to change those negative thoughts and belief systems. And at the same time, it should remind you to stop doing things to try to motivate your gymnast or threaten a punishment since those things will only shut her down more. Comparing her to her teammates to offer hope will also likely backfire and hurt her confidence. And reminding her that you and coach believe in her will only make her feel more conflicted and under pressure.

 

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If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.

 

Gymnastics Mental Blocks Guidebook for Parents

 

Helpful Links:

 

 

Gymnastics Mental Coach Anna Kojac, M.Ed.

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