Losing skills in gymnastics is a common problem that unfortunately can happen to a gymnast at any time.
In this article I'll talk about why you might have lost a skill in gymnastics and some things you can do along the way to get your confidence back.
But first, let's talk frustration!
Frustration is a big emotion for many gymnasts and can occur when you lose a skill or when you're going through a mental block.
If left unchecked, frustration can grow into anger or even bigger emotions, and can severely affect your gymnastics abilities.
So bottom line - let's learn what frustration is so we can learn how to manage it.
First of all, frustration is always about losing your sense of control. You might be frustrated because you could do a skill and now you can't and you feel like you have no control over that.
You might be frustrated because you think you should already have learned a skill and you haven't, which feels like it's out of your control (because if it were in your control you surely would already have learned the skill, right?).
Therefore, one of the best things you can do when going through frustration is to focus on controlling the controllables.
Yes, maybe you can no longer do a skill that you once could, but you CAN control how many times you keep trying to do the skill again or your attitude as you're trying the skill.
You CAN control how often you are using your gymnastics mental training tools to help you get back your skill and whether you are showing up to the gym with an "I Can" attitude or an "I Can't" attitude.
There are plenty of things that ARE within your control. Your job is to focus on those things and to let the rest go.
One technique I like to use for controlling frustration (and works great for anger too) is the thermometer technique. With your eyes closed, you imagine the image of a thermometer in your mind, one that contains mercury that rises and falls with the temperature. Once you have that image in your mind, you imagine the mercury at its highest point on the thermometer and then slowly you watch as the mercury goes lower and lower. You can even use your hands to signal the mercury up at the top and then your hands pressing down as the mercury lowers. As you imagine this, you take deep breaths and with each exhale you relax a little more.
Try this out! You will immediately feel more calm afterwards. You can check out this video below to watch this technique in person.
Now that we have frustration out of the way, let's talk about some reasons why you might have lost your skills in gymnastics.
5 Reasons Why You Might Have Lost Your Skills In Gymnastics
1. Growth Spurt
Having a growth spurt is one of the most likely reasons why a gymnast all of a sudden loses a skill she could already do. If you've grown 3-4 (or more) inches in the past year, it's likely that your body is out of balance.
Gymnastics is a sport based on timing, control, and proprioception. When you have a growth spurt, those things change. If your legs are longer, it's harder to pull your legs around during your back tumbling or it might be harder to balance in your handstands. If your torso grows, you may lose your sense of timing or proprioception because now the time it takes to move through the air is different. If your arms grow longer it might make your giants or back handsprings feel "off" because your lever is different.
Don't underestimate how much of an impact a growth spurt can have on your gymnastics skills. Even an inch of growth can cause skills to feel funky. Typically when you lose a skill in gymnastics because of a growth spurt, you don't feel fear over doing the skill. In fact, you'll keep trying it over and over because you're not sure why you can't seem to do it anymore. You might feel like your timing is off and that can be frustrating.
If you've recently been injured that can cause you to lose a skill or multiple skills. This might have nothing to do with fear but sometimes when you injure your wrist or ankle or even back, your body might not have the range of motion that it once had. This can cause skills to become more difficult. For example, if you had a wrist injury and your mobility is less since recovering from this injury, it might make it harder to hold your handstand or do giants or do any skill that requires a certain degree of flexibility in your wrist joint. Again, this might not be a fear thing. It's simply a mechanical issue.
This can be frustrating and just like a growth spurt, can throw off your timing and make skills more difficult to do. With time, you can gain back that range of motion and get back your skill but it might take months to get back to where you were pre-injury.
In terms of fear, coming back from an injury can be scary and you might be hesitant to do your skill again, especially if it's a skill that you actually hurt yourself on. This is another reason why you might not be able to do a skill but this reason involves fear.
3. Lack of Sleep or Low Energy From Lack of Proper Nutrition or Hydration
Gymnasts tend to underestimate the amount of sleep they need in order to perform well in gymnastics. Between school, homework, studying, and practice, it can be hard to get in enough hours per night. But did you know that even just a small decrease in the amount of sleep you get per night can severely limit your gymnastics abilities?
To be successful in gymnastics, you need to have energy. If you are lacking in power you won't be able to complete a skill with enough punch or height. This can cause you to land on your knees or not complete your full rotations. While you might not think that lack of sleep can impact your gymnastics performance, consider this study that showed that elite athletes who got less than 10 hours per sleep had a decrease in sports performance.
In addition, if you are not eating enough or eating the proper amount and you are low on hydration, you will also have low energy which will affect your gymnastics performance. Always be mindful of your physical body and what you need to do to make sure it is properly taken care of.
4. Overthinking A Skill
Perhaps one of the most frustrating reasons you might lose a skill in gymnastics is when you start to overthink it. Breaking down a skill is important in the early stages of learning, but once a skill has already been mastered, overthinking is no longer helpful. In fact, it can be harmful.
When your brain is focused on every little part of a skill, it doesn't have that chance to get into flow. Flow is what allows your body to do a skill effortlessly. When your brain takes over and tries to analyze each part of a skill, it is easier for you to lose your skill because there is too much thinking, which then interrupts the flow.
Overthinking on a skill you could once do effortlessly can come from stress or pressure. Anxiety can cause you to question your abilities and therefore elicit the stress response from your brain which puts your brain into hyper focus mode. This mode can cause you to lose your skill.
If you find yourself overthinking, remember to focus on your breathing and try to calm down your stress response. Also, sometimes it's best to not do a skill for a few practices to give yourself a break. Similar to a mental block, when you try to push through a skill that you can't seem to do, you start to rewire the neural connections between your brain and body in a way that is not ideal.
5. You Learned The Skill Really Quickly
Learning a skill quickly can lead to a loss of skills. In fact, I see this often in in gymnasts who move through the levels really fast. While a gymnast might have the physical ability to keep learning new skills, if she learns them too fast she won't give her neurological system the time to keep up with her learning.
When the brain learns new skills, it creates important connections between your neurons (the cells which act as messengers), also known as neuroplasticity. The more you practice, the stronger these connections become. If you learn a skill quickly, those neural pathways are not as strong as when you learn a skill more slowly and over time. As a result, it can be easier for you to lose those skills more easily.
Also, if you learned a skill in the past but then haven't done it in a long time, those neural connections weaken, making it harder to do the skill.
So now what? If you've lost a skill, how can you keep your confidence up while trying to get it back?
While it can be really frustrating to go through skill loss, there are some things you can do to keep your spirits up while you work on getting your skill back.
#1: Don't Make It A Thing
It's easy to lose a skill and then to freak out about it! Our negative brain immediately wonders what's going on and starts to think about the worst case scenario. But this isn't helpful!
If you've lost a skill, try not to make it a thing. Remind yourself that every day you are a different gymnast depending on how you are feeling emotionally and what you have experienced that day or the day before. You always bring YOU into the gym and some days the YOU you bring isn't your best self. And that's ok.
Take everything in stride and know that the best thing you can do is take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that this is only temporary.
#2: Focus On Everything You CAN Do
I said earlier in regards to frustration that it's important to focus on what you CAN do since frustration is often a feeling of not being in control. The same goes for when you lose a skill in gymnastics. You might not be able to do the full skill but you probably can do parts of it. If you lost a kip, maybe you can't make it up to your front support but you can focus on doing your glide swings. If you lost your standing back tucks, work on them in the pit or go back to doing drills to help you set when going for your tuck.
When you switch your mentality to "I CAN" instead of "I CAN'T" you will notice a big difference in how you feel about our skill loss and in your motivation to keep trying the skill.
#3: Set Process Goals Instead of Outcome Goals
An outcome goal is when you focus only on the skill you want. For example, I want to do my double back again.
A process goals is when you focus on the journey towards getting that skill. For example, I'm going to try 10 double backs in the pit today or I'm going to try to keep a positive attitude while I'm trying my skill.
The difference is that in an outcome goal you are only focused on having to get a certain outcome. In a process goals you are excited and focused on the process of getting there.
When you lose a skill it's easy to focus on only the outcome that you want and to forget about the journey. My advice is to switch your thinking to mini process goals that you check off along the way.
#4: Remember That Skill Loss Is Only Temporary
While it might feel like it will take forever to get back your skill, remember that this is only a small blip in your gymnastics journey. The less you stress over it, the easier it will be for your body and brain to get back the skill.
Also, if you lost a skill because of a growth spurt or previous injury, it will take time for your body to adjust and you need to have patience with your body! In the meantime, keep focusing on little things you can do to get back mobility, timing, or control.
So there you have 5 reasons why you might be losing your skills in gymnastics that are unrelated to mental blocks. And you also have a new technique for handling frustration in gymnastics. Remember that losing your skills can happen for a number of reasons such as a growth spurt, coming back from an injury, not getting enough rest or not fueling your body properly, overthinking a skill, or learning a skill too quickly. Regardless of the reason, it's important to not make it a thing, enjoy the journey, and focus on everything you CAN do including setting process goals instead of outcome goals. Also remember, skill loss is only temporary.
If you found this blog helpful, please leave me a comment below! I'd love to hear from you and know if this frustration technique helped you as well as if learning that sometimes skill loss is NOT related to a mental block was an eye-opener.
One of the things that gymnasts say to me when I tell them that they can lose a skill from any of these reasons is that "It's not my fault?" What a weight off your shoulders knowing sometimes skill loss just happens and that it's not something YOU did!
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