Do you ever feel like you can't handle pressure in gymnastics?
If so, you're not alone. It's common for gymnasts to feel pressure in gymnastics.
Whether during a competition or in practice, gymnasts often have many things weighing them down. Unfortunately, this pressure can affect gymnasts' performances, their motivation for gymnastics, and their feelings of self-worth.
What is Pressure In Gymnastics?
Ironically, sport psychology experts agree that pressure is not a "real" thing. In fact, pressure itself is imaginary.
What this means is that pressure is actually the expectations that gymnasts perceive are placed on them. It is an imaginary view of the future.
A gymnast might think "This will happen if I don't do this." However, she doesn't really know what the consequences will be. She is imagining what she thinks will happen. Thus, pressure is based on perception.
Under pressure, gymnasts may freeze, balk, or have blocks. In fact, the number one factor I see with gymnasts who have mental blocks is that they feel massive amounts of pressure. Whether it's pressure to compete well, pressure to get a skill by a certain date, pressure to move up in level...all of those perceptions are pressures that cause a gymnast's brain to go into fight-or-flight mode.
Fight-or-flight mode at its core is not a bad thing. However, when the brain perceives a threat that isn't actually a threat, it trains a gymnast to be hyper fearful of situations with no justified cause.
Pressure comes in many different forms
Gymnasts can perceive pressure in many different ways. Here are some of the most common forms of pressure in gymnastics:
1. Internal Pressure:
Internal pressure is the pressure gymnasts put on themselves. This could be pressure to be good, reach a certain level, attain a certain score, make it to college gymnastics, become elite, or be "perfect." These pressures can be incredibly hard to manage because they are self-imposed and therefore go unchecked.
2. External Pressure:
External pressure is the pressure gymnasts feel from people other than themselves. It could be their coaches, parents, or teammates who might put pressure on them to achieve a certain goal or be at a certain skill level. Teammates might make gymnasts feel "not good enough" or unworthy of being on the team.
3. Situational Pressure:
Situational pressure is a pressure a gymnast might feel due to a specific situation or event that is coming up. For example, a recruiter might be coming to watch a gymnast compete or she might be at training camp and must perform well in order to be accepted onto a team. This could also be the pressure of a meet coming up which can affect how a gymnast is feeling in the gym leading up to her meet (she "needs" to get a certain skill by that date) or the actual nerves she feels during the competition itself as a result of competing.
While there are more types of pressures gymnasts might feel in gymnastics, these are the most common and most types of pressure fit into one of these three categories.
How To Handle Pressure In Gymnastics
Now that you have an idea of the different types of pressure gymnasts might be perceiving in gymnastics, how can gymnasts handle this pressure?
Here are a few tips to help your gymnast:
1. Have your gymnast write down a list of all the pressures she's feeling. She can then cross out the ones that don't mean much to her. These might be pressures she feels from her coaches or parents that she's not really interested in. Have her circle the ones that mean a lot to her. Those are the ones she can focus on during the season and she can let all those other ones go. Being able to let go of the ones that are unimportant can feel like a huge weight lifted off and will allow your gymnast to focus on her important goals.
2. Control the controllables. Your gymnast should focus on the things she can control (her effort, her attitude, her mental training, her breathing) instead of thinking about all the things she can't control (her score, the judges, her competition, her coach's reactions). When she focuses on the process and not the outcome, she'll feel less pressure.
3. Stay in the NOW. Keeping her mind focused in the present moment is the best way to handle the pressure a gymnast might be feeling. Why? Because when her mind wanders to the future, there are so many unknowns and uncertainty. In the present moment she knows what's she's doing so keeping her thoughts there will give her less anxiety and thus less pressure towards what she has to do in the future.
4. Change Your Mindset Around the Pressure. When you look at pressure as a challenge and not a threat you immediately free your brain from its protective reaction. Say things to yourself things like "Let's see what I can do today" instead of "I have to do this today." You can feel the difference in those two phrases and how the first one takes the pressure off and makes it more fun rather than intense.
The good news is that because pressure is a perception, a gymnast can change the way she perceives a situation in order to eliminate some of that pressure.
First, she should write down a list of all the pressures she is feeling in order to eliminate the ones that don't matter to her at all. These could be expectations she might still be feeling from a previous coach or teammate that are no longer relevant to her journey.
From there, your gymnast can focus on the controllables and letting the things she cannot control go. By staying in the present moment your gymnast can also learn how to focus on what's important now so that her mind does not drift to the unknown.
Finally, a simple shift in mindset around pressure can immediately make a situation feel less threatening and can ease up the way a gymnast thinks about that situation.
Remember, pressure itself is imaginary! So locating the source of the pressure can help to understand why a gymnast is feeling the pressure she's feeling. In the end, a gymnast can learn to let go of those perceptions in order to feel less pressure in gymnastics.
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