Does your gymnast "lose" skills right before gymnastics meets?
Does everything seem to be going ok but then the week or so before a meet your gymnast suddenly can't do the skills she had been doing consistently before?
This is much more common than you may think. And while some coaches deny this is a type of mental block, I disagree.
Skill "loss" right before a gymnastics meet is a form of a mental block that occurs when your gymnast is feeling pressure to compete well. If you notice, I put the word "loss" in quotes because your gymnast has never really lost her skill. Her brain is just freezing her up.
One of the biggest causes of mental blocks is when gymnasts' brains perceive some sort of "danger" and then stop their bodies from doing skills (i.e. freeze up).
The thing here is that the "danger" your gymnast is perceiving isn't related to the skill at all.
Rather, it's related to the way she is feeling about her upcoming competition.
It's no coincidence that as a mental performance coach for gymnasts, I get super busy this time of year when States, Provincials, Regionals, and Nationals are nearing.
So let's talk more about this "danger."
The "danger" your gymnast is feeling might be related to the expectations she has for herself as to how she needs to compete.
I hear these sorts of pressures often from the gymnast I work with:
-Your gymnast has qualified for one of these important meets for the first time and wants to prove she can do well. There might be a part inside of her that doubts her ability to compete well and it's scaring her.
-Your gymnast didn't have such a great State meet (or other big meet) the season before and wants to redeem herself this season.
-Your gymnast had a really good State meet (or other important meet) the season before and wants to prove she can do it again.
-Your gymnast's team is aiming to get first at an important meet and your gymnast doesn't want to let any of her teammates down.
-Your gymnast's coach has set high expectations for her ("Your vault is so good I know you can get top 3 at Regionals") and she doesn't want to disappoint her coach.
-Your gymnast is SO focused on outcome such as getting a certain score or placing at her meet that this is all she thinks about (which puts pressure on her brain because her brain hates when it doesn't know the outcome of something).
Do any of these scenarios above sound like they might fit your gymnast?
If so, there are some things you can do to help your gymnast keep things in perspective. However, word of caution...some gymnasts don't like to hear these things from their parents. Setting her up with a session with myself or a mental performance coach can help her put things into perspective.
1. Shift her focus from the outcome to the process.
This looks like your gymnast identifying goals she has for each event that don't involve final scores/places or how she ends up doing. Instead of being focused on a certain score, your gymnast might decide that on floor she is going to focus on entertaining the crowd with her artistry or pointing her toes during her leaps. These are things your gymnast has control over and they can shift her mindset from needing a certain outcome to enjoying the process.
2. Remind your gymnast that one meet does not determine her worth.
While it's easy to get wrapped up in the game of needing to do well in order to feel good, your gymnast needs to understand that one meet isn't going to be the deciding factor as to whether she's a "good" gymnast or not. A competition is a chance to assess where your gymnast is THAT day!
3. Ask your gymnast if she could still be happy even if she doesn't have as good of a meet as he hopes to have at this important meet.
Many gymnasts will think of their past successes that season and realize the growth they've made from the beginning of the season. Others will get stuck on how important this meet is and feel their success or lack thereof will contribute to how they feel about themselves. Gymnasts like this have a muddled sense of self-worth. They've identified with being a gymnast for so long that if they don't feel good at being a gymnast, they don't feel good about themselves at all.
4. Encourage your gymnast to take it one day at a time.
In the weeks leading up to an important meet, your gymnast can start to feel the heaviness of having to do well. This can cause certain skills to feel funky or for things to happen to her in practice that haven't happened before (like balking on vault or not being able to get through a full bar routine without falling). When this happens, there is a domino effect of her starting to worry about not being able to do well at her meet and then her thoughts spiral into a negative place making it harder for her to hit her skills in practice. If your gymnast can focus on what she needs to do that day in practice to get through it, even if it means taking a break from doing a certain skill, then she can freak out less about what that "bad" practice means for her upcoming meet.
5. Plan something to do after her big meet and get your gymnast involved with the planning.
Are you going to go for ice cream, go back to the hotel and watch a movie, or have dinner with her teammates? When your gymnast knows there is more to this big meet than just the meet itself, it can help to take the pressure off. She'll be able to think about what she is going to do after her meet which will give her something to focus on other than her meet.
Having a gymnast who starts freezing up before big meets is incredibly common. But it's also frustrating because it appears that everything is going fine until all of a sudden it isn't...and by then it's almost too late to figure out how to "fix" the lost skill.
If this is a pattern that happens before every important meet, you can use that info to help guide the way you talk to and encourage your gymnast before her next big meet.
If it happened only once, right before her biggest meet of the season, then it's more confusing to navigate through because you don't have any previous context.
In any event, the key is to not put any more pressure on your gymnast.
The tendency is for everyone involved to start flipping out about "losing" a skill right before a big meet and for the tension to be overwhelming for your gymnast. While not ideal, you can remind your gymnast that the worst that happens is she doesn't compete that event at her meet. Again, this is not what your gymnast wants to hear, but sometimes going through worse-case scenario can help your gymnast realize she can handle any negative event that comes her way.
If your gymnast is struggling before her meets, reach out to me. I've helped many gymnasts with this lost skill syndrome before meets.
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