If your gymnast has gone through (or is going through) a mental block in gymnastics, you've likely noticed that it often gets a lot worse before it gets better, even trickling onto different events.
What might have started as a mental block on her series on beam may now be a block on her round off back handspring back tuck or her flyaway on bars or her back tuck dismount off beam or...ALL OF THE ABOVE!
Many parents ask me why this happens...
And while I don't have any scientific evidence to support my conclusion, I will tell you my theory based on practical experience working with gymnasts going through mental blocks.
First it's important to understand the basics of a mental block in gymnastics. Your gymnast's brain is perceiving some sort of "threat" that often comes from the pressure she's feeling. This is why we typically see mental blocks pop up or get worse right before a new season (when your gymnast is trying to move up to the next level) or right before an important competition towards the end of the season (States/Regionals/Nationals).
Her brain is sensing the pressure she's feeling to do well or to test out or to move up and it protects her by going into fight-flight-or-freeze mode...in gymnastics it's the FREEZE mode that is most prevalent since that's really the only way her brain has control over the situation. If she won't run away/flee from gymnastics practice (not likely) or put up a fight with her coach (also not likely), her brain must employ the only thing it knows how to do to protect her - stop her from going for her skill (much like you might get that "deer in headlights" feeling).
Now I think we can all describe the "classic" mental block in our gymnasts...one day she was doing the skill fine and the next day she just "lost" it. At first her coaches might tell your gymnast to take a break or to not worry about it. Then when it persists for longer, they try other methods like cheering her on, telling her just to go for it, or eventually punishing or shaming her for not being able to do her skill anymore. (P.S. not all coaches do these last things but in my experience, more coaches than not employ these scare or punishment tactics after everything else has failed).
And pretty soon, if her mental block persists for long enough, you start noticing that she's having trouble on other skills that were easy to her. Most likely, these skills tends to be the "backwards" skills such as back tucks, flyaways, and yurchenkos. You can insert pretty much any backwards skill here.
Disclaimer: It's not ALWAYS the back skills on other events that go (sometimes a front tumbling pass will go too). It's just that the backwards skills are the ones that she typically NEEDS for the next level so they tend to go more than the other skills.
So why is this trickle effect happening to your gymnast? What is causing a single loss of skill to affect her other events too?
I have a theory as to why your gymnast's mental block trickles onto other events and she gets blocked on multiple skills.
The biggest reason I see gymnasts block on skills is because of pressure to make it to the next level. And the skill that gets blocked? You guessed it...the one they need the most to move up to the next level.
Back walkover or back handspring on beam, series on beam, round off back handspring back tuck, flyaway off bars...those are key skills in moving up to the next level in the compulsory/lower optional levels. I also see it consistently in lower level compulsories on the jump from low to high bar.
A mental block comes from negative patterns of thought that get reinforced over and over and over again. It's often a feeling of being 'not good enough' or having done so well last season that she feels the pressure of having to repeat her success in a new level. When she doesn't have the tools to lighten those pressures in her brain, her brain continues to respond by sounding the danger alarm. Remember this: Pressure = Danger = Freeze. When your gymnast can alleviate the pressure feelings, her brain doesn't go into danger mode and hence will allow her to do her skills.
If your gymnast is feeling the pressure to move up and is doubting her abilities, her brain is responding to that fear of not making it or of letting others down. And in true law of attraction fashion, your gymnast will often lose the one skill she needs to move up. Without that skill she can't move up, thereby proving to herself that she has a lack of ability and isn't good enough to go to the next level.
Often this just starts on one event (beam is the one I see get blocked the most, followed by floor). But over time, as your gymnast's confidence plummets from dealing with this mental block, she doubts herself even more. As a result, she reinforces the idea that she is not good enough to move up to the next level, and more skills start to get blocked.
Also, when your gymnast has been struggling through a mental block for a long time, her sense of self worth in gymnastics is so low. And her brain no longer trusts her to complete skills successfully.
In addition, AND THIS IS KEY TO MY THEORY, she's been trying SO hard to push through her mental block that her brain has lost faith in her ability to listen to its FREEZE response.
Remember her brain's ultimate goal is to keep her safe. And when her brain is detecting these negative thought patterns, it is in constant danger mode. And your gymnast is so used to TRYING to do her blocked skill over and over again, that it signals to her brain that she isn't taking the "danger" response seriously enough.
What her brain wants her to do in that moment is stop trying her skill. And what she often does is try over and over again. Whether that's standing there and not going (a form of balking) or bailing out mid-skill, this is pushing through a mental block and that is a recipe for disaster.
And so to make sure your gymnast hears her brain's "danger" call, her brain will shut her down on more and more skills.
It's like your brain says "If you're not going to listen, I'm going to keep shutting down skills so you finally take me seriously."
Think of a child going through a temper tantrum. If she starts to bang on the table and her parents ignore her, what will she do? She'll bang louder! She might even escalate to the next level by throwing things or screaming or doing anything to get her parents to notice her.
Your gymnast's brain is the same way. If your gymnast doesn't take her freeze response seriously enough on the first skill, her brain will escalate the situation so that your gymnast has no choice but to listen.
And this is why mental blocks often trickle to other events.
It's also important to remember that a mental block on a skill isn't ever about fear of that skill or not being able to do that skill. Mental blocks happen on skills your gymnast could successfully do. Your gymnast never "loses" her skills. Her brain blocks her from doing them. And that's why it is important for your gymnast to learn to listen to her brain and rebuild trust (things I work on with them in my private coaching sessions).
Some psychologists have theorized that back skills go more often than front skills because her brain feels less safe going backwards since it can't see the ground or what's behind her.
But I truly believe it's the back skills that go because those are the ones that are in the routines that she needs to do. And when a front tumbling skill goes, it's usually because your gymnast has modified her routine to do front tumbling instead of back tumbling, but is still struggling with pressure to compete well...hence her front tumbling skills may eventually go too.
Anyway, that is my theory. Again, nothing scientific about this. I don't have proof or research to back up my ideas. But having worked with hundreds of gymnasts struggling through mental blocks I tend to see the same patterns over and over. And these are my observations. Take it for what you will.
Bottom line - if your gymnast is struggling with mental blocks and they have now trickled onto different events, she needs help immediately! That is what I'm here for. You can see details below for my 3-Session Mental Block Jumpstart package.
Let me know in the comments if your gymnast has "lost" skills on multiple events and what the skills she has lost were...let's see if there are any commonalties.
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