When Your Gymnast Wants To Quit Gymnastics Because Of A Mental Block - Stick It Girl

As you all know, mental blocks can be devastating for your gymnast. 

There are so many ups and downs (more downs than ups, it seems) and it often feels like it will never end.

One of the most devastating consequences is when your gymnast announces she wants to quit because of her mental block.

I want to clear up what's going on in this case so you have a better understanding of why your gymnast suddenly wants to quit. I know this can be very confusing for parents and often feels like it comes from left field.

 

As you probably know, a mental block is a biological response that comes from your gymnast's brain going into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. 

Your gymnast has most likely been operating in freeze mode for some time now, which is why she keeps blocking on her skills.

But at a certain point when she realizes that this is a skill she MUST do, her brain switches into flight mode. It wants to flee to avoid this "danger" because freezing up hasn't been successful. And she's mentally exhausted.

This can happen when your gymnast has been working through a block for a while and gets to the point where she feels hopeless. Season is coming up or this is a skill she NEEDS to have in order to compete a certain event. So she knows she can't avoid having to do it any longer.

And in practice she might be tired of being embarrassed because she is the gymnast who has to always drag over the extra mat or go to the "other" vault or work alone in the corner on easy drills. 

Her coach might be ignoring her at this point because her mental block has been going on for so long.

Or her coach might be frustrated and angry at her and your gymnast just can't take it anymore. Nor should she have to.

This situation is tough for your gymnast and it's not something that is going to get better for her if nothing changes. And your gymnast inherently knows this. So her brain decides it's time to quit and leave all this "danger" and embarrassment behind.

Remember, your gymnast's brain is hard-wired for survival.

The million dollar question then is: Does your gymnast really want to quit?
 
Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, she wants to avoid anymore of the “danger” that her brain is perceiving because she's in danger fatigue. And no, because she loves gymnastics (and I guarantee if this mental block wasn't a thing, she'd be happily competing in gymnastics instead of wanting to quit).

So what do you do if you have a gymnast who is in this situation and wants to quit because of a mental block?

Here are a few tips to help you navigate through this confusing scenario:

1. Get help

This first one goes without saying. If your gymnast isn't working with a mental performance coach who is skilled in mental blocks, then you need to get her connected with one ASAP. 

This isn't a quick fix but it will start to give your gymnast the tools she needs to navigate through this in the gym. Once she has the knowledge and tools to understand what is happening in her brain, it can help her feel more in control of her situation.

Again, this can take time and your gymnast might not be patient enough to work through it. But before doing anything drastic, always start here.

2. Give your gymnast a break from gymnastics

Working through a mental block takes time, even when working with a mental performance coach. So at some point your gymnast might really just need some time away from the stress of gym.

It's ok to give your gymnast a week or two off from gymnastics (even if it's in the middle of a season) to give her brain some time to just be 'free' - free from worry, free from embarrassment, free from disappointment.

Sometimes this time away can help re-ignite her passion for gymnastics. 

And sometimes it makes her realize that she isn't really excited for gymnastics anymore.

During this time, you might seek out some other activities she likes to do besides gymnastics. Baking, watching movies, going to see a Broadway show, bike riding, going to the beach, dancing...find the things that bring her joy and then do some of those things. 

Regardless of the outcome, this time gives her brain and body some time away from gymnastics so she can reset herself, so to speak. It also helps to lower her cortisol levels (stress hormone) that have been overstimulated for so long.

 

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3. Do what Nastia Liukin's mom did

When Olympian Nastia Liukin wanted to quit, her mom had some great advice.

"She would always say, 'That’s totally fine. You can quit, but not today.'" said Liukin. "She would make me go back to the gym the next day and the next day until I had at least one good day. Then she’d say, 'OK, now you can quit, we’ll enroll you back in the public school and find another activity you want to do.'"

"I would always be like, 'I don’t know what you’re talking about, I never said I wanted to quit.'" Liukin continued. "Basically the moral was you can never quit on a bad day and I think it’s super important because especially as kids — or even me now as an adult — sometimes you go through things in life and it's not going your way and you want to give up, but you can't quit on a bad day. It's so important to instill that in your kids."

Recognizing that it's common to want to leave this sport when you've had a tough practice or a rough week, her mom made sure that Nastia was making this big decision after having a good day in gym.

Nastia never did quit and went on to become Olympic champion. 

Something similar might work for your gymnast. Of course, if she's crying and scared to go into gym and having the worst time, I don't suggest forcing her to go. That's when the break, mentioned above, comes into play.

But often your gymnast will come home after a terribly bad day in the gym and announce she's quitting. Make sure that decision is made with a clear head and all the facts.

4. Find a new sport

This one sounds drastic but sometimes it's the best way to go, either temporarily or permanently.

Has she been wanting to try cheer? Dance? Pole vaulting? Diving?

If she's expressing interest in a different sport or activity, honor that interest. 

While gymnastics is arguably the best sport there is (wink, wink), she might find joy and ease in a different sport. The strength and flexibility she gained in gymnastics can be an asset in other sports. And she might find that there's less pressure or lower amounts of stress in other sports. 

On the flip side, she might try a different sport and realize she truly loves gymnastics instead.

At this age, it's ok to for her to explore different things and flip flop between them.  

And never feel like she is throwing away years of hard work if she leaves gymnastics and pursues something else. Those years of hard work built character in her. They taught her vital skills she will need for life. And she developed strength that will make her a better competitor in any sport.

5. Don't let your own disappointment stop your gymnast from making the best decision for her

At the end of the day, one of the big reasons this feels like a confusing choice is because you (her parent) see the potential your gymnast has for gymnastics, as well as all the hours (and money) spent in the gym.

You don't want all of that to go to waste. 

One of the hardest things to do is let go of the 'talent' your gymnast has and to let her make her own choices.

If she's good at gymnastics, you want to see her excel to the highest potential she has possible. And if her coaches told you she has the skill in her to become an elite level gymnast, you might want that for her too.

But sometimes what you want and what she wants are different.

So always remember to put your own agenda aside and allow your gymnast to follow her own heart, even if that doesn't align with what you think is the right path for her.

This is probably THE hardest thing to do as a parent of a gymnast. So give yourself grace for wanting your gymnast to want to continue on with gymnastics. But keep an open-mind.

Sometimes one door closing means a bigger and better door opening for your gymnast somewhere else.

  

Going through a mental block is exhausting, confusing, and scary. And when it's been going on for months (or years), it can really wipe your gymnast out.
 
But there's a real biological reason for why your gymnast wants to quit when she's been struggling with a mental block for so long. So it's first important that you realize this. Then it's important that you get help. After that, if things aren't improving, it's alright to give your gymnast some time off from gym. Sometimes that break is what she needs to reset and lower her stress levels. If not, trying a new sport or other activities might be the next step.
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Finally, it's important that you don't let your own disappointment or expectations about your gymnast get in the way of making the best decision for her. It's easy to hold on to "what could have been" instead of realizing "what can be," albeit possibly in a different sport. 

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If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.

 

Gymnastics Mental Block Guidebook for Parents - Stick It Girl

 

Helpful Links:

 

  • Free Downloads: Get free gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics.
  • Stick It Girl Academy: Enroll your gymnast in my membership community where she can learn different mental training techniques and get on a weekly LIVE call with myself and other competitive gymnasts. 
  • 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

 

Gymnastics Mental Coach Anna Kojac, M.Ed.

 

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