Being on the other end of a mental block is one of the hardest things any parent can experience.
What's worse is when a mental block, one that you thought was gone for good, has suddenly come back and you're none the wiser.
There you are thinking things are going alright in the gym only to find out that your gymnast hasn't been doing a certain skill for weeks.
She didn't tell you she "lost" her skill again.
Coach also didn't say anything.
But when you recently witnessed a practice you saw your gymnast standing around not being able to go for her skill.
And it suddenly became clear to you that your gymnast is right back there again, not able to go for her skill.
The frustration, the agony, the anxiety, the tears, the confusion...it all comes flooding back.
And you're left wondering...why is this happening again?
If you're a parent of a gymnast who always seems to get mental blocks, it's likely because your gymnast has a "stuck" mindset.
What exactly is a stuck mindset as I'm referring to it in regards to mental blocks in gymnastics?
A stuck mindset in gymnastics is:
- a belief that nothing will get her through her mental block (she's tried everything and nothing works for her)
- an unwillingness to do "messy" gymnastics or easier progressions because she knows she's capable of so much more
- a fixation on what she SHOULD be able to do instead of what she currently can do
- a determination to push through (think of trying to use as much elbow grease as possible here)
- a belief that if her coach or teammates see her struggling, they will think less of her
- feeling embarrassed at the thought of being "found out" that she's not really as good as others think she is
Basically, a stuck mindset is similar to a fixed mindset when we talk about growth mindsets. It's this belief that either she's good or she's not. Or that she can either do her skills or she can't.
There's no gray area in a stuck mindset. There's no compassion for herself. In fact, there's almost a denial that her skill is suffering.
Sadly, this kind of a stuck mindset is common in many gymnasts, not just those working through mental blocks. But it's especially damaging for a gymnast who succumbs to mental blocks time and time again.
So why is a stuck mindset so detrimental to a gymnast going through a mental block?
The reason is because when a gymnast has a stuck mindset, she assumes she knows what she needs to do to move through her mental block. But in actuality, her stuck mindset is keeping her from doing the things she really needs to do to move through them.
For example, a gymnast who is having trouble doing her series on high beam might need to work on laser beam and then slowly build back up to the high beam after days or even weeks (sometimes months) of doing repetition after repetition.
But a gymnast with a stuck mindset thinks she shouldn't have to do that. She believes she's capable of doing the skill and will stand on high beam day after day attempting to throw her series unsuccessfully. She would rather struggle on high beam and not go, than admit "defeat" and move down to a low beam (or heaven forbid, ask for a spot).
She has high expectations.
She won't speak up for herself or risk rejection by asking for a spot, even if she really needs one.
She often wants to save face because of her fear of embarrassment.
She's a fighter.
And fighting is what she'll keep on doing whether it works or not.
It's what she does best.
But it's keeping her stuck.
And so while she may have muscled through her last mental block, eventually that tactic won't work any more because she hasn't addressed the underlying cause of her mental block. She just keeps repeating the same mental patterns that are getting her blocked without getting to the root and changing it.
So what does your gymnast with a fixed mindset need to do to move through her mental blocks?
She needs to adjust her mindset.
She needs to allow herself to make mistakes without fear of being embarrassed or being yelled at.
She needs to stop beating herself up for not having her skills.
She needs to speak up for what she needs without fear of retaliation.
Your gymnast needs to learn to listen to what her brain is really asking for instead of just pushing through.
So how do you help a gymnast with a stuck mindset?
While this article isn't about how to overcome a mental block, I do want to share one thing that makes a big impact on how quickly a gymnast can move through a mental block.
One of the best ways to help a gymnast with a stuck mindset is by having the right coach.
Most coaches unknowingly contribute to a stuck mindset by creating a coaching culture that emphasizes perfection, having to do certain skills even when scared, or pushing through.
Also, many coaches who have gymnasts who seem really stuck, tend to try punishment and threats to get their gymnasts to do their skills. This might even be things like ignoring these gymnasts, calling them names, or kicking them out of the gym.
If your gymnast is in a gym where her coaches are "fed up" with her "games" or unwilling to help her because "they've tried everything" then your gymnast is in the wrong place.
I can't stress enough how important the culture and environment your gymnast is in because it makes a difference in how she moves through her mental blocks.
If you happen to notice that a lot of other gymnasts are also getting mental blocks in your gymnast's gym, it's time to question the coaching methods in that gym.
Your ultimate goal then, as her parent, is to find the right gym for your gymnast and that might mean switching gyms and/or coaches. The right gym is one that has a positive vibe where gymnasts are encouraged and supported. It's a place where your gymnast feels "safe" to make mistakes.
Bottom line, a gymnast with a stuck mindset is going to keep struggling through mental blocks because her mindset is fixed in a way that isn't allowing her to adjust to her situation. She's stuck on the SHOULDs and the COULDs instead of what she can do now from where she is. And until she can accept a different way of thinking about her mental block, she is going to constantly experience mental blocks in one form or another.
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