When your gymnast gets "stuck" in gymnastics it can be a trying time for both you and her.
Whether she's in the midst of a mental block or experiencing fear after an injury, the emotions associated with it are big. And when your gymnast feels "stuck", it can add fuel to the fire.
Stuck feelings often sound like "I'll never get this" or "I've tried everything" or "That won't work." Your gymnast has "decided" that nothing will help her through her block, often subconsciously, and is making herself more stuck with this mentality. She may mope around or cry a lot. She's extremely frustrated and feeling hopeless. She doesn't want to quit gymnastics but the agony it's causing her is overwhelming and never-ending.
As her mom, it makes sense that you want to help her through this "stuck" phase. You're probably willing to do anything to help your gymnast become her happy self again. The stress it's causing both you and your gymnast are more than you can handle at times. You're exhausted. You just want to be past this time in your gymnast's journey. And you want your gymnast to finally feel happy and confident again.
Hang in there, gymnastics mom!
While this is a frustrating time, it's also a time for learning. And the biggest learning lesson is how to get past obstacles by changing the one thing you can control - your mindset.
Here are some tips for how to help your gymnast get through her "stuck" feelings.
1. Remember it's a long-game
The important thing to remember is that there is nothing you can do to speed up this process. It takes what it takes. And often it's much longer than you'd like.
Getting through a "stuck" mindset doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey that can take months and months and months (sometimes longer). If your gymnast has a severe mental block, it means her confidence is fragile. And because confidence is a moving target it can take a long time to build up that confidence to where it is steady and sure again.
This is why we see highs and lows when going through mental blocks and fear. If your gymnast's confidence is high that day, her blocks might be non-existent. But if her confidence wanes, her blocks come back full force. The key, then, is to help your gymnast feel confident again.
However, if she's in a situation where she just keeps blocking or having poor performances, her confidence will only continue to decline. Often this leads us to tough choices (see "big changes" below).
Regardless, getting past a mental block and fears is most certainly a long-game if your gymnast has been "stuck" for a while. And you, as her mom, have to have the patience and mindset to dig in for the long haul.
2. Help her change her mindset
Often when your gymnasts are "stuck" it's because they are trying to get through their block using the same mindset that got them stuck in the first place.
According to Albert Einstein:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Changing mindset is one of the toughest parts of coaching gymnasts through mental blocks. Most gymnasts resist new thinking because their old way of thinking feels comfortable and safe. Even though they desperately want to move past their block, most aren't willing to get out of their comfort zone and try out a different mindset. So instead they stay in a blocked mindset and keep doing the things that are keeping them stuck.
Again, a lot of this is at the subconscious level so they might not even realize it. In addition, they've built strong, deep neural pathways in being "stuck" so it becomes more and more challenging to create new, positive pathways.
What can you do to help her? Catch her in her "stuck" comments and help her become aware of them. Repeat back what she said so she can hear herself. Most gymnasts aren't aware that their thoughts are in this pattern.
The first thing I work on when I coach gymnasts one-on-one is developing awareness of their thoughts and words because this is often what keeps them "stuck." This is a process that takes time but it's worth the effort.
As her mom, constantly be on the lookout for those "stuck" thoughts. You might say "I heard you say 'I'll NEVER get past this.' Is that what you really think?"
Again, just bringing awareness to her words and thoughts is an important step towards moving past those "stuck" feelings.
3. Encourage your gymnast to find other interests
When gymnastics is your gymnast's life, it can get her even more "stuck" when she's in a rut in the gym. In fact, gymnastics becomes all she thinks about. And when she continues to think about her "stuck" feelings this only brings more and more negative energy towards her situation. That creates an even deeper "stuck" feeling.
To help break up this negativity, encourage your gymnast to do other things for fun. She can bake, garden, make bracelets, choreograph dances, watch funny movies, go shopping, draw, sing, read, play with non-gymnastics friends or do anything else that she also enjoys doing. And if she has nothing else that she likes to do, it's time to find her another hobby.
This is not only important to help your gymnast take her mind off her current situation, but will be helpful in future years when she transitions away from the sport of gymnastics.
So as her mom, work diligently to help her develop other interests. They don't have to take up a lot of time. But she needs the distraction and something to think about other than gymnastics.
4. Consider making a big change
Sometimes the biggest way to get past a "stuck" mindset is to make a big change. And that change usually involves switching gyms, teams, or coaches.
When your gymnast gets into a "stuck" mindset her mind and body go on autopilot. They react the same way each time to the stimuli she sees each day in the gym. If she's heading to beam first (like she does at every practice), then her mind takes over and goes "Oh great, here we go again." She develops habits of thought that keep creating the same behaviors over and over which perpetuates her block.
And if she has a coach who makes her feel uncomfortable or scares her, then that gymnast won't speak up or communicate what she needs, thereby creating the same patterns over and over. Those patterns will include feeling like every practice is going to be more of the same. And those feelings can lead to mental blocks on other events as her confidence and trust in herself dips.
Leaving a gym is a big decision and it won't solve your gymnast's problems entirely. But it can in many ways ease up on the stress your gymnast is feeling so that she can work back up to her skills in a more supportive environment. It can also create a change in environment and coaching style, things that may help your gymnast get "unstuck."
It is ALWAYS worth a look at whether the environment your gymnast is in is perpetuating her block. If she is in a supportive gym with hands-on coaches who are actively helping her through her fears, then this is a good environment for her.
However, many gymnasts who I see that become "stuck" are often in highly competitive gyms with coaches who train through old-school methods. Those old-school methods are usually thoughts of needing to just "push through" or "go for it" with no spots and limited hands-on coaching once the gymnast is at a certain level. It might even include berating comments or ignoring your gymnast when she can't perform her skills.
While many parents think this is the way it's supposed to be at more competitive gyms, the truth is that is NOT a healthy environment. Champions created from those gyms were created in spite of the environment, not because of it.
Please always make sure your gymnast is getting the support she needs from the coaches in her gym. If not, strongly consider why you are keeping her there. Is it a pride issue ("I know my gymnast is good enough to be here")? Or is it something else preventing you from leaving? Her friends? The gym's location?
Bottom line, if your gymnast is not thriving at her gym then it's not the best fit for her. Period.
5. Help your gymnast stay the course
We live in an age where we expect quick fixes. If we try something for a month or two and it doesn't work out, we're on to the next thing. We want results and we want them yesterday.
This becomes especially true for a frustrated gymnast who knows she can do better than she's been doing. She wants to show her coaches that she is worthy of being on the team. She wants to do her skills and feel like she belongs there. And if there is a deadline on the horizon (i.e. an important competition) then your gymnast is getting even more antsy in her quest to get "unstuck."
But ironically these gymnasts are the ones who require the most patience. They are the ones who have deep internal work to do to become "unstuck" and that takes time in addition to staying the course. That means doing mental training consistently and giving it time, even if it doesn't seem like it's working right away. Most gymnasts are onto the next solution or next quick "fix" before they've given the first one enough time.
It's not bad to try out different things to help your gymnast get through a mental block - private lessons, having conversations with her coach, mental coaching, therapy, acupuncture. Just check yourself and make sure you or your gymnast aren't just looking for the quickest "fix." If so, she'll constantly be starting over instead of gaining valuable traction.
If you try to solve mental blocks with a quick fix they will appear again over and over. Getting through a mental block for good requires a strong foundation of confidence, an aware gymnast who knows when her negative thoughts are taking over, and an ability to filter out pressure to help her brain feel safer. All of these components take time and patience. And unfortunately, this may mean still being blocked during an important competition. Or "sacrificing" this season for the sake of a better season next year.
The bottom line - helping your gymnast get "unstuck" is a tough job. But you're the best person to help your gymnast. Be her listening ear, the warm hug, and the one who can gently reflect back what you hear your gymnast saying over and over. Make sure you are helping your gymnast find other interests so that she has other outlets to turn to.
Also consider whether a big change needs to be made such as switching gyms, levels, or coaches. Finally, it's important to stay the course and give it a fair shot before bouncing to the next "fix."
Getting "unstuck" takes time and patience. And requires your gymnast to let go of immediate results and the need to compete in upcoming competitions. It takes what it takes because your gymnast's brain is in charge. Don't rush the process!
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