Do you have a gymnast who tends to freeze up or "lose" skills right before a gymnastics meet?

If so, find out some of the reasons why this happens and what your gymnast can do to get through this frustrating situation.

 Help! My gymnast freezes up on skills right before meets.


This time of season when many gymnasts are getting ready to compete, I get very busy as a gymnastics mental coach! It's because gymnasts are gearing up for their meet season but are starting to struggle big time and no one knows what to do about it.

Why does my gymnast freeze up on skills right before meets?

As we all know, right before competition season begins (or even in the meet week leading up to meets), your gymnast is likely feeling a LOT of pressure

This could be pressure to do certain skills without a spot or mats, or to put her skills on a hard surface. For a gymnast, the thought of having to do a skill by herself when she hasn't been doing it alone is a very scary idea. And her fight-flight-or-freeze mode often kicks in.

Then there's also the pressure to compete well this season that many gymnasts feel. Maybe it's a big year and your gymnast really needs to hit her routines to show colleges that she's worthy of a spot on a collegiate team. Or maybe your gymnast had a really great season the year before and now feels this internal pressure to repeat her success at a different level. That pressure to have to do well can also cause her freeze mode to activate.

Another pressure that comes up is a fear of embarrassment. Many gymnasts don't want to go to a meet and look bad in front of everyone else. Whether they're worried about what their coaches will think or what other gymnasts or spectators might think, embarrassment is a pressure that can shut your gymnast down.

So pressure leading into meet season and each week leading into meets can really take a toll on your gymnast's mindset. As I always say, pressure equals danger to your gymnast's brain. And when her brain is sensing danger, it will go into freeze mode in gymnastics.

Another thing that happens this time of season is that gymnasts go into panic mode because they don't feel ready. Often they have an idea in their head of where they SHOULD be at this point in the season. For many, they want to be perfecting their routines and skills and putting on the finishing touches. When, instead, they are still struggling to get skills, this causes a panic that can keep the freeze mode activated for much longer than it needs to be.

As a result, your gymnast starts to compare herself to where she thinks she should be this time of season, feels disappointed or embarrassed that she's not further along, and then dwells on this fact. 

That, combined with the pressure she is feeling, will likely cause her to freeze up on important skills she needs in order to compete.

So what do you do to help your gymnast who is freezing up on skills before meets? 

This can be a devastating situation for gymnasts, coaches, and parents. One because everyone feels helpless and second because your gymnast is in major distress and it's not getting better.

1. Encourage your gymnast to focus on each day at a time.

The "what ifs" (what if I don't get my skill in time, what if I embarrass myself, what if I can't compete) can cause your gymnast's head to go into a total head spin and make her not think clearly. When she focuses on the present moment and what she can work on in that moment, it helps her stay out of panic mode.

If she doesn't already have a Skills/Confidence Ladder mapped out that she can use to guide her workouts, create one. This gives her a plan for what she can work on each practice to build trust back up with her brain on the skill she is freezing on.


2. Figure out a plan for what your gymnast CAN do during competition.

If it's getting close to competition season and your gymnast can't do her back tumbling pass but can substitute it with something else, start working on a different tumbling pass. While you don't want your gymnast to avoid the skill she's freezing up on, you DO want to ease her mind. And having a back up pass or different skill that your gymnast can compete instead can help alleviate the pressure she is feeling.


3. Have a conversation with her coach about the situation.

One of the scariest things for your gymnast is not knowing what is going to happen. Sitting down with her coach and discussing the situation can be very helpful to your gymnast's brain. Talk to coach about what happens if she can't get her skill in time. Will she scratch that event completely or substitute a different skill? 

Many coaches don't discuss these things with gymnasts and the uncertainty can keep your gymnast's brain in danger mode. Open communication is key.


4. Remind your gymnast that she's overcome something like this in the past.

If your gymnast is like most who freeze up on skills pre-competition season, she's likely gone through this in the past. Maybe last season she was in a similar situation. Remind her that she got through it then and that she'll get through it now. 

Going through worst case scenarios can also be helpful for your gymnast. Ask her "what is the worst that will happen?" The answer is usually that she'll have to scratch an event. And while that's not what your gymnast wants to do, it's not the end of the world. She's strong enough to make it through a situation like that.


5. Help your gymnast focus on what she can CONTROL.

Pressure stems from a focus on things that are outside your gymnast's control. Will she get a skill in time? Will coach be disappointed? What will happen in the future? These are all thoughts that are outside her control.

Encourage your gymnast to focus on what she does have control over - her effort, what she's focused on as she works on her skill, her attitude, if she works to change her negative thoughts into more neutral ones...anything that isn't outcome based.

When she brings her focus onto things she CAN control, her brain eases out of danger mode and feels more in control. This will allow her to do her frozen skills more of the time, thereby allowing her confidence to rise again.


Stick It Girl Gymnastics Meet Journal


Bottom line, pressure is a doozy for some gymnasts. I especially see this affecting gymnasts who have high expectations for themselves and are perfectionists. These are the ones who don't allow themselves the grace to go at a slower pace or to have "bad" days. When they put that pressure on themselves and can't manage it, their brains go into danger mode and skills get frozen.

By learning how to focus on what your gymnast can control, by having a plan for what to do in the event that skills don't unfreeze in time, and by staying in the present moment and taking each day as it comes instead of worrying about the future, your gymnast can slowly work through her frozen skills. 

For some gymnasts this takes time to work through. For others, sometimes getting that first meet out of the way helps their brain feel more at ease and skills come back more quickly.

Patience is key. Even (and especially) when the clock is ticking and meet season is fast approaching, it's important for your gymnast to allow herself the extra time to get into competition mindset mode. 

If your gymnast is struggling and meet season is approaching, reach out to me! See more information below.


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


Free Mental Block Guidebook for gymnasts and their parents - Stick It Girl


Helpful Links:



Gymnastics Mental Coach Anna Kojac, M.Ed.



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