I hear this a lot from the gymnasts I work with...
There's one piece of equipment they absolutely hate (and therefore can't do their skills on it).
Whether it's the high beam that's over in the corner or the set of bars that is extra slippery or the regular floor, there's just that one piece of equipment where your gymnast can't seem to do her skill. Yet, she does it beautifully everywhere else.
This is a case of focusing on the uncontrollables.
This month in the Stick It Girl Academy we are talking about letting go of the uncontrollables and one of the things we are discussing is equipment that we don't like.
As background information, I teach my gymnasts that there are things they CAN control in their gymnastics experience and things they have NO control over.
For example, some things gymnasts can control include their effort, their attitude, their preparation, listening to their coaches, focusing on their skills, and being kind.
On the other hand, some things gymnasts have no control over include what their coaches or teammates say and think and do, the judges and how they score, their competitors, the crowd or sounds around them, and the equipment.
Equipment falls into the category of things they have no control over.
This is especially true when they compete at meets in gyms where the equipment feels different than what they're used to. Sometimes the beams are more slippery or feel harder, the springboard might not be as springy, the floor might be extra springy or hard, and the bars might not bend or might bend too much. Basically it all feels different.
When gymnasts get focused on the feeling of the equipment, they lose sight of the things they CAN control. And this puts their brain into a state of panic. We all know panic is not an effective state to be in if you want to do good gymnastics, so this panic starts a downward spiral and makes them not go for their skills and then fear the piece of equipment where they can't go for it.
So what can your gymnast do if she's scared of a piece of equipment?
The answer, of course, is to focus on what she can control.
But it's not as cut and dry at first.
Because her brain has developed these fears around this piece of equipment, your gymnast will likely go into panic mode whenever she gets on or uses that equipment.
For example, if doing her back walkover on the last high beam (or any high beam in general) brings her fear, it's going to be hard for her to just get up there and go for her skill.
So this process may take some time.
The process of working through this fear looks like this:
1. She works on low beam and focuses on saying words that help her go for her back walkover. These could be mental cues like "stretch, hands, foot, foot, squeeze" or simply saying "back-walk-over" as she does it.
2. She repeats this over and over until it is engrained in her mind and feels like second nature.
3. As she does this she feels the beam under her feet and remembers that sensation. She feels what it's like to grab the beam with her hands and look at her hands as she's doing her back walkover. She spots the end of the beam as she finishes and remembers that feeling. In other words, she gets into her body as much as possible.
4. She heads to the piece of equipment that she doesn't like and attempts it there with whatever "safety" mechanism she needs in place - mats stacked, a spot from coach, etc. As she's attempting it there she brings her focus away from how strange this beam feels and back to what she focused on during her successful attempts on the low beam. Can she feel the beam under her feet? Is she saying her mental cues? Is she focused on what she CAN control.
5. Rinse and repeat.
If she notices she starts to panic when she gets on that piece of equipment, her first response should always be to focus on slowing down her breathing by taking big breaths. This shuts down her fight-or-flight response and can help her brain stop panicking.
She can then consciously say to herself "I can't control how this beam feels but I CAN focus on my mental cues." That little bit of awareness that she's focused on something she can't control and is bringing it back to what she can control can help her brain feel safer in that moment.
As you can imagine, this takes time. Your gymnast has programmed her brain to fear this piece of equipment and to focus on the uncontrollables. She now has to learn how to bring her attention back to what she can control as she attempts her skill.
The bottom line is that there will always be equipment that doesn't feel good to your gymnast. This is totally normal and a huge part of being a gymnast who competes at different gyms and on different equipment. Your gymnast has to bring her focus away from the equipment and back to what she has control over. The more she does this, the less her brain will go into panic mode and will be more willing to let her go for her skill on that piece of equipment.
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