You may have become fearful when doing certain skills in gymnastics.
This happens to all gymnasts at one point or another. It can be frustrating because you might need this skill in order to compete or you might not understand why you just can't do this skill.
Often when this happens, it means your body and mind have become disconnected.
Normally when things are working well for you in gymnastics your body and mind work together to help you just "do" your skills. At some point, after you've first learned your skills, your skills become automatic and you can just go for them without thinking.
However, when something happens to disconnect your mind and body, it can make "just going for it" feel impossible. Maybe you had a scare or got injured. Or maybe you just had a lot of pressure going on and your self-doubt started to creep in which made your skills feel "off."
Then all of a sudden you try to go for your skill and you just can't. Or you feel massive amounts of fear and you can't gain the courage to push past that fear.
An important skill to learn in order to get past this fearfulness is giving your mind a job to do.
Our brain was created to help keep us safe from danger. This also means it is hard-wired to find the negativity so it can quickly react if things don't go as planned. That means your brain is constantly scanning your environment and creating a dialogue to go with it. Those are your self-talk thoughts and as a result of all this scanning for danger, they tend to be negative in nature.
So if you don't give your mind a specific "job" to do, it will think those negative thoughts.
How Do You Give Your Mind A Job To Do?
You may have heard the term "mental choreography" in gymnastics before.
Just like choreography that you do in your routines, mental choreography is a pre-rehearsed set of words that you connect to your skills.
One of the biggest contributors to mental blocks is a mind that thinks negative thoughts. If you don't give your mind something to think about, it will default to negative thoughts about fear or doubt and keep perpetuating your blocks and skill loss.
So mental choreography is a way to give your mind a job to do so it can stay focused.
There are many different types of mental choreography. Here are just three examples:
1. Technical cues: these are words that help you remember what to do physically in any given skill. These might be words like "block" or "push" or "run."
2. Skill cues: these are words that describe the actual skill you are doing. These might include words like "round-off," "back handspring," "back tuck" if that is your tumbling pass. You are saying the name of the skill you are doing as you're doing it.
3. Motivational cues: these are words that pump you up or give you courage. "Anna, you've got this" or "I know you can do it."
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to mental choreography. As a gymnast, you can decide which type works for you. The key, though, is to focus on what you want to have happen as you are doing your skill.
Like I said earlier, when you are going through a mental block it means your brain and body are disconnected. During this disconnection, thoughts of fear or worry are dominating your brain's bandwidth.
When you give your brain something particular to think about, you can kick out those thoughts of fear, and get your brain connected back to your body again.
How To Put This In Action
1. Pick a skill that you are fearful to do
2. Write down mental choreography to go with each part of your skill. For example, if it's your Yurchenko vault then you might think: "Run fast, hurdle, punch, back handspring, block, tuck, stick."
3. Practice this mental choreography not only every time you do this skill in the gym, but also at home by doing some mental run-throughs of your skill and saying these words. The more often you can practice, the easier it becomes for your brain to gravitate towards staying focused on these words during skill execution.
4. If you notice your thoughts drifting towards negative thoughts when you are doing your skill, remember your mental choreography and bring your mind back into focus.
While mental blocks and fear can be frustrating to navigate through, giving your mind a job to do is a helpful way to get your mind and body connected again. Remember, if you don't tell your mind what to do, it will do its own thing which means those negative thoughts or worst-case scenario ideas will creep in. Practice this ahead of time and do it every time you do your skill so you train your brain to stay focused on the task at hand.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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