Watching your gymnast go through a mental block and navigate fear can be such a rollercoaster ride as a parent (and for her as a gymnast as well)!
When you see your gymnast doing her skill one day and then unable to do it the next, it can elicit strong emotions of confusion, disappointment, frustration, and even anger in you.
You might wonder why your gymnast is choosing not to do her skill.
You might question her motivation and if she really wants this badly enough.
You might even feel taken advantage of. After all, you're being really patient with her and she just seems to be taking such a long time to move past this mental block, despite your best efforts.
You might have even gotten her private lessons with her coach to help her through this and it seems like she just doesn't really WANT this badly enough.
The truth is, as badly as you may feel about her situation, your gymnast is NOT choosing to avoid doing her skill.
There is a very real, biological reason why this rollercoaster ride happens and it's important that you understand it.
First off, she is not consciously choosing when to do her skill and when not to do her skill.
In fact whether she does her skill is decided by her brain on a subconscious level.
Our brains have a built-in fight-flight-or-freeze response that responds automatically to "danger."
While to you, as her parent, it might seem like there is no danger in her situation, her brain may disagree.
What makes this tricky is that you might look at a situation and think 'This should be easy for her. She's done it in practice many times before. She's even competed this skill.'
In contrast, her brain is shuffling through millions of thoughts. Some of which might be: 'What if I don't get this skill? What if I embarrass myself trying? What if coach stops liking me if I can't do my skill? What if my mom sees me and yells at me after practice? What if my bestie moves up to the next level and leaves me behind?'
All of these kinds of thoughts are perceived as "danger" to her brain.
Since you aren't inside her brain with her, you don't know the thoughts that might be shutting her down in any moment.
Second, her not doing her skill isn't because of a lack of motivation.
Trust me. Your gymnast WANTS to do her skill. She wants to be past her mental block and back to her "old" self again. She wants to forget this block has even happened to her.
More than anyone she WANTS to do her skill. Even more than you want her to. And even more than her coach wants her to.
But her brain is literally stopping her.
There is no amount of bribing, shaming, or tough love that will motivate her to do her skill. The reason is because it's not a motivation issue at all.
It's a safety issue. And while it might be something she's not consciously aware of, it's still something that is stopping her.
Third, don't take her mental block personally.
Assuming you aren't putting pressure on your gymnast to get her skill back (if you are, read this article), then there's no reason to take her mental block personally.
She isn't purposely not doing her skill to spite you.
You could be the most patient, loving parent in the whole world and she would still have a mental block. This isn't about you. It's about her and her relationship with her brain.
It's helpful as parents to let yourself off the hook for helping your gymnast get her skill back. It's not your job to fix her. It's not your job to make everything better. This isn't your work. It's hers.
Your job as her parent is to be there for support along the way. You are there to give her hugs and wipe away her tears. Your shoulder is the best place for her when she needs it. You are there to listen without judgment.
Even if you've tried everything under the sun to help your gymnast, remember it isn't your fault that she's going through this. So please don't take your gymnast's mental block personally.
Finally, this "hero's journey" is an important one for your gymnast.
This is your gymnast's journey and it's an important one.
Just like the "hero's journey" that many heroes in mythology must go through in order to gain new skills and come out the other side forever changed for the better, so must your gymnast.
A mental block is her "hero's journey."
As trying and tough as it may be, in the end it will change her in a way that will forever benefit her.
She must cross that threshold and go through the trials and failures that lead to her growth.
In this case, her philosophical helper or guide is her brain. She must come to an understanding with it and make peace with how it works in order for her to have the revelation that finally changes her at the end of her journey.
And while you can do your best to support her, in the end it is HER who needs to travel through un-chartered territory and have that final revelation.
At the end of the day it's really important to remember that your gymnast isn't choosing not to do her blocked skill. In fact, it isn't a conscious choice for her at all. Her brain is in charge and is running the show subconsciously. So despite your best efforts, patience, or the support you give her, she will need to grow through this at her own pace. And often it's not the pace you'd expect.
Hang in there parents! This too shall pass. Embrace your gymnast's mental block as a gift and buckle up for the ride. It might be bumpy but it will be worth it in the end.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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