As a parent, it's frustrating watching your gymnast go through a mental block.
You want to help your gymnast and you're willing to try everything under the sun to help her get past this.
Her emotions are big, she's upset all the time, and you feel helpless as to what to do to help her.
Your natural response, of course, is to do anything you can to help your gymnast. That might mean giving her suggestions for what to do, pointing out things you see, or reminding her of what her coaches have told her to do.
While all of this seems harmless, it's actually not!
When you try to help your gymnast through a mental block in these ways you can actually contribute to her mental block or make it worse!
So what should you do?
Well this article is about what you should NOT do first!
What NOT to do when your gymnast is having a mental block:
1. Don't give her tons of advice or reminders
As her parent you probably see a lot of areas where she can improve. You know that if she just gave that extra little effort she would finally live up to her potential.
So you remind her to do the things her coach has told her to do. You also give her your own advice for what you think will help her. Maybe you were a gymnast once too. You might even have some things that worked for you that you want to pass along to her.
Even if you know what you're talking about and could potentially guide her through overcoming her mental block, don't do it! Children in general need their parents to be their parents and not their coaches or mental coaches. They want to feel safe around you. And when you give her advice or reminders it breaks that trust because she feels like she's living with her coach!
2. Don't try to "fix" her mental block
Your gymnast isn't broken. A mental block is a symptom of a bigger problem such as lack of confidence or inability to manage pressure. But it doesn't mean she's broken. It means she lacks the proper skills.
Just like when your gymnast has a fever, you can treat the fever by giving her fever-reducing medicine, but that won't treat the problem that caused the fever. Therefore if you want the fever to go away you have to find the root cause.
When you look at a mental block as a problem that has to be solved you make things worse for your gymnast because you aren't helping her figure out the real reason behind her blocked skills.
Instead look for clues that might be causing her mental block. Is her confidence low? Is she lacking the skills to manage pressure and stress? Is she in a constant debate between doing club gymnastics and participating in middle school sports? Helping your gymnast find the root cause of what's going on is better than trying to put a bandaid on her mental block.
3. Don't ask her tons of questions about her mental block or about how practice went
When you pick her up from practice you're probably pretty curious about how things went. You might want to ask her if she tried her blocked skill that day, what else she tried, or if she's going to be competing her routine for her upcoming meet.
While I know you're curious, your curiosity only puts more pressure on your gymnast. Instead, allow your gymnast to come to you when she's ready to talk. Some gymnasts might never come to you and that's ok too. Your gymnast has to manage her thoughts and feelings in a way that works for her.
But when you lay on the heat and ask her questions, she WILL shut down. Her mind has been bombarded by thoughts all practice and she's not even sure what all of those thoughts are. When you ask her questions, you just add to the thoughts that she's trying to work through in a way that is too overwhelming. Lay off the questions!
4. Don't assume her mental block is because of a lack of motivation
Often parents (and coaches) will think that their gymnast is not doing a skill because she isn't motivated enough to do it. This is especially confusing because you've seen your gymnast do the skill in the past, so you imagine that she must be feeling lazy or unmotivated if she isn't doing it again.
In reality, the opposite is true! Your gymnast wants more than ANYTHING to do her skill again. It's just as frustrating and confusing to her as to why she can't do her skill anymore. She's working hard mentally trying to figure out what's going on. So while it might look like she's not motivated, the truth is that she doesn't need more motivation to get her skill. She needs help!
But it's not the help you think. Bribing her with gifts or rewards won't help and in fact will only put more pressure on her. In addition, when coaches make your gymnast scratch if she doesn't get a skill, that makes things worse. Again, it's not a motivation issue which many coaches think it is. It's often lack of confidence that's contributing to her mental block and bribing her or scratching her from events at meets won't help.
5. Don't get too attached to her mental block
Gymnastics (and parenting) is a journey of highs and lows. My best advice is not to get too attached to either one. If things are going well for your gymnast, great! Celebrate. Be happy. Be proud. But don't hold onto it for too long.
Conversely, if your gymnast is going through a mental block, great! Celebrate. Be happy. Be proud. Ok, maybe not. You can get frustrated, be sad, stomp your feet. Just don't stay there for too long.
There will be ups and there will be downs in her gymnastics journey. Even the journey through a mental block will have its ups and downs. And those ups and downs will come and go faster than you can remember them.
While a mental block is a tough situation for your gymnast to go through, know that it's a gift in disguise. It's giving her clues as to what needs strengthening in her mental game. Every time she has to go through one she'll learn something new, if she's open to discovering the clues that are waiting for her. So while you might get sad for your gymnast, just don't stay there too long. Because before you know it, she'll be doing her skill again....and just as soon afterwards she might lose it!
Hang in there, gymnastics mom! Mental blocks are frustrating for everyone involved. But they are also one of the biggest blessings a gymnast could be given. Remember not to give your gymnast advice, try to "fix" her mental block, ask her tons of questions about it, assume she isn't motivated, or get too attached to the highs or lows. Just keep being the guiding light and rock that you are for your gymnast. Give her hugs. Really listen to what she has to say when she opens up and talks about it. And be patient. This too shall pass.
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