As a mental performance coach for gymnasts, this is the time of year when I see an uptick in gymnasts coming to me for help with their mental blocks!
Many factors come into play but one of the biggest factors is the countdown to competition season. As summer fades away and mock meets get put on the calendar, it can cause an immense amount of pressure for gymnasts to get the skills they've been struggling with in time for season.
And the end result is a brain that goes into panic mode with all the thoughts of pressure which ultimately leads to an even stronger freeze response.
Not only is the looming presence of upcoming meet season a factor in keeping your gymnast stuck, there are other things I've identified as reasons why your gymnast is still stuck in her mental block.
If you have a gymnast who has been struggling for a while with a mental block and things don't seem to be getting better, here are some reasons why this might be:
1. Your gymnast is stuck comparing herself to her teammates.
When any gymnast goes through a mental block she often feels lonely and isolated. Her teammates are learning harder and harder skills and she's stuck off in the corner trying to get back a skill that everyone else does easily. She might even be ignored by her coaches which adds more insult to injury.
Your gymnast will naturally start to look around and compare herself to her teammates. She notices how she is getting 'behind' or not on pace with her teammates. This thought process typically results in her feeling bad about her situation and even hopeless.
Hopelessness leads to a decrease in confidence and that decrease in confidence keeps her stuck in her mental block. Comparing herself only makes her feel more desperate and the vicious cycle continues.
One thing I always stress to gymnasts is to put on their blinders and focus on their own journey. Every gymnast goes through the sport of gymnastics at a different pace and through various routes. There is no one size fits all in gymnastics. When gymnasts compare themselves to their teammates they don't allow themselves to be accepting of their own unique journey.
2. Your gymnast is embarrassed to do the basics in front of others.
When going through a mental block, the goal is for your gymnast to build up trust with her brain again. This means she often has to break down her blocked skill into easier progressions. For example, if she can't do her series on high beam, she might go back down on the laser beam on floor trying to go for it.
This can feel really embarrassing for your gymnast, especially if she's the only one in her group who has to do this. And that can lead her to not take as many turns or to avoid certain progressions all together so that others don't see her. She might take a long time in between turns, purposefully running down the clock for that rotation so she can move on and go do something else.
I often hear gymnasts who prefer their private lessons because it's usually during a time when the gym is empty or less populated. This allows your gymnast to feel free to do these basics without fear of judgment from her peers.
Unfortunately, what your gymnast needs IS to do those basics over and over and over again and as many times as possible. So when she's embarrassed or avoids doing as many as she can, she only holds herself back from getting through her block.
3. Your gymnast is stuck in the past.
One of the biggest things I hear from the gymnasts I work with is "I used to be able to do this. Why can't I do this anymore?" A gymnast going through a mental block is often stuck in what she used to be able to do versus what she CAN do now.
Acknowledging that she's not in the same place as she used to be can be a very rude awakening for many gymnasts. Often they try to hold onto the past of when they could do their skills.
While there's nothing wrong with remembering a time when she could do her skills, if your gymnast is using that as a reason to feel badly about herself now, it can be holding her back.
In fact, many gymnasts continually mourn the loss of their skill. And this mourning keeps them in a negative mindset. While she might not be doing the skill she knows she should be able to do, by dwelling on it your gymnast is staying in a fixed mindset.
Instead her goal is to focus on what she CAN do in every moment. While it's not what she used to be able to do or should be able to do, it's what she CAN do. And that's what she needs to focus on.
4. Your gymnast is afraid to advocate for what she needs.
Talking to coaches can be scary for young gymnasts. Coaches, especially strict ones, can be intimidating and mosts gymnasts assume they know how their coaches are going to respond to them (and unanimously all of them say their coaches are going to say "no" to their requests). These assumptions often keep gymnasts from speaking up due to fear of rejection.
Also, because many gymnasts going through mental blocks lose attention from their coaches, they assume they aren't entitled to asking for help. Coach might be too busy spotting gymnasts who are actually going for skills. So your gymnast might be afraid to "waste" her coach's time if she asks for a spot and then doesn't go for the skill.
Sadly, gymnasts going through mental blocks need major support from their coaches, not the opposite. They need to feel supported and feel confident enough to ask for a spot or to work on a different drill when they feel they need those things. If your gymnast can't ask for those things or doesn't feel comfortable enough asking for them, then she can stay in her mental block for a lot longer than she needs to.
To be clear, this isn't always the gymnast's responsibility. If your gymnast's coach is mean, strict, or brushes off your gymnast's mental block, then it makes it 100 times harder for her to speak up. So being around the right coaches makes a difference (this is food for thought for parents and gymnasts who insist that their gym is the right gym despite negative coaching).
5. She's feeling pressure to have her skills immediately.
Getting through a mental block takes time. While your gymnast's body hasn't lost the skill, her mind is putting on the brakes. And in order for your gymnast's brain to let off the brakes, it has to build up trust again. This takes time. There is no way around it.
While it's possible for your gymnast to be able to do her skill again more quickly, chances are it won't stick around for too long because she hasn't built up the foundation of trust.
So anytime your gymnast feels she needs to have her skills RIGHT NOW, it puts more pressure on her brain and makes it harder and harder to do her skills. Getting through a mental block is a long game. Your gymnast has to be willing to sacrifice the short term in order to build up a strong foundation for success for the future.
And when competition season is right around the corner and your gymnast knows she must get her skills immediately so that she can move up to that level or compete all four events, it only makes things worse! The goal is to take it one day at a time and focus on maximizing each day. Future "what-if" thinking will only make things harder on your gymnast.
One of the reasons I think of mental blocks as a blessing is because they remind gymnasts of the important connection between mindset and gymnastics. With enough time and practice, anyone can learn gymnastics skills. But it's the gymnasts who lean into mental training and strive to understand the huge impact their brains have on their skills who really shine in this sport.
If your gymnast has been stuck in a mental block for a long time, see if any of these reasons above apply to her. And if so, there is help! I can help your gymnast with my Mental Block Jumpstart 3-Session Coaching package.
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