Answering a question about gymnastics mental blocks from the “ASK ME ANYTHING ANONYMOUSLY” form…
"hellooo!!! im a platinum gymnast and i also compete for high school so i was wondering if you have any good tips on getting over mental blocks :) also you’re very cool and i love watching your videos"
Hi there! Thanks for the kind words about me and my videos 🙂 appreciate it!
And with mental blocks…man, so so tough. Sorry you’re going through it.
I’m definitely not an expert in them, as I am not a mental health specialist of any kind.
But I’ve coached many athletes and friends through them.
And to be entirely honest (not braggy, I promise) I haven’t had very many of them myself.
I think that’s because my coach was pretty great at not pushing me too far past what I was comfortable throwing. At least how that’s how I perceive it.
Looking back, I had plenty of teammates with mental blocks, so maybe I was just one of the lucky ones who never had fears that outpaced the expectations of my coach.
But I think that may be a good starting point for this convo…
In my experience as a gymnast and coach, the two most common reasons mental blocks are created are:
1 – the gymnast tried something they were too afraid of too soon, usually due to pressure from their coaches or teammates. But sometimes the pressure is self-inflicted.
2 – the gymnast had a fall or they watched a teammate fall and it was traumatic for them
I’m know there are WAYYYY more things that could cause a mental block. And again, I’m not a psychologist or anything. But these are what causes the majority of them with most gymnasts in my perception and experience.
For this little write-up, I want to focus on #1 because I truly think that’s the only one that you as an athlete will always have some control over.
As for #2, of course nobody who falls wants to fall. Of course nobody wants to see their teammate eat mat. But those things may happen regardless of how many times a gymnast has performed a skill.
So again, let’s address #1 here…
MENTAL BLOCKS AND PRESSURE
It seems to me that most scary and unpleasant skills associations come from being “forced” to try a new skill “too soon”.
When I say “forced” I mean there was some type of internal or external pressure or stress that made the gymnast feel like they “had to” go for it.
And when I say “too soon” I mean they tried the skill before they were MENTALLY ready to do it.
And the worst combo that creates this environment is when you, your coach, or your teammates “know you can do it” because they “know you have the physical capabilities” but none of that shit matters to be honest.
If YOU don’t feel like YOU are ready in your head, then you simply aren’t.
NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THIS.
I know it sounds crazy and you probably don’t want to believe it, but here’s the truth…
Every skill you have a mental block with is still there. Your body knows how to do it.
If you’ve performed a skill successfully once, you can do it successfully again.
So all you have to do (and all you can do) is wait for your mind to catch up.
I’m not saying that will be easy or quick. It may be next week, next month, or next year.
It might take thousands more of the same drills until your comfortable.
It might take you trying completely different drills from different angles to see if something else can make you feel more confident.
But whatever it is that you need, you need it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Only YOU know when you’re ready and excited vs. terrified and praying you don’t die.
This is nothing to be embarrassed or mad about. Your mind is a wonderful and purposeful thing that protects you from harm and keeps your surviving.
You just have to be nice to it and allow it the time or the reps that it needs to catch up to what you want it to do. Patience is so so key here.
BUT FOR YOU AS A HIGH SCHOOL GYMNAST…
I recognize that advice of “do whatever you need to do for as long as you need to do it” only works for other adult gymnasts like me.
We have no coach, no consequences if we don’t do it, and no reason to scare ourselves or feel bad at all.
But since you’re a high school gymnast, there are more people who have an opinion on how far along you should be with all these skills.
And of course, you want to be ready for season and feeling ready to compete.
So with that in mind, some questions to ask yourself might be:
#1 – Do I REALLY need this particular skill RIGHT NOW or could I switch it out for something of the same value?
#2 – If I’m blocked on performing this skill, could I break it down into smaller drills or portions of the skill until I feel ready to try the full thing again?
#3 – If I’m already breaking it down into drills, why aren’t those drill working? Are there other new and/or different drills I could try instead?
#4 – What drills or surfaces have I already tried that make me feel comfortable and confident? How can I take those drills and progress them 5 or 10% closer to the real skill itself?
#5 – Have I talked to my coach about this outside of practice yet?
Often times, talking to your coach during workouts when they have tons of kids to worry about isn’t the best time to tell them your deeper issues. Set up a meeting or ask them to stay after practice for a few minutes so you can fully express what you’re dealing with.
Tell them the current drills aren’t working and aren’t making you feel more comfortable over time. Ask them if they could help you brainstorm a few other drills to try.
If you need to, ask for a private lesson from them or some other coach they recommend at a local club gym.
In short…. Just communicate with your coach the best you can.
If you’re like I was as an adolescent and are scared of disappointing your coaches to their face, maybe you could you write them a letter or email them everything you’re feeling and thinking.
That way they’ll be able to fully hear you out on their own time with a clear head instead of while they’re juggling a whole team in a loud ass gym atmosphere.
A FEW MORE TIPS FROM A SELF-COACHED GYMNAST
The last thing I want to discuss that might be helpful is sort of what I mentioned in the intro…
I don’t know if I’ve never had a mental block, or if it just so happens that I simply don’t even consider trying things I’m not feeling ready for.
When I try a new skill for the first time, it’s because I’ve already done all the lead-up work I feel like I need to do.
I’ve done the drills, done it on soft surfaces, done portions of it, watched TONS of videos of it being done correctly on the internet, envisioned myself doing it a trillion times, imagined what it could and should feel like, and even full considered all the ways it could go bad and what I would do if I had to bail out safely.
Only after ALL that has been done and I’m feeling like 15% scared and 85% excited, then I’ll start throwing it.
I would never even dream of throwing something I’m 60% terrified of and 40% praying to the gymnastics gods that I don’t die.
There is nobody, and I MEAN NOBODY, that could make me throw something like that.
And if you feel like your coach or your teammates are “making” you throw something, I’d have to say that you might want to check your relationships with those people.
- Why are you so scared of your coach that you’re willing to risk your life?
- Why do you care so much about what your teammates think that you are willing to hurt yourself to make them satisfied?
- Why would you put someone else’s expectations that far ahead of your own?
- Or, if you put this huge pressure on yourself…why is that?
- What do you feel like you’re actually losing if you don’t throw this skill right now before you’re feeling ready and comfortable?
At the end of the day, this is YOUR gymnastics.
Just because you can’t do something with confidence right now or this season doesn’t mean you never will.
Just because it’s taking you longer than you’d like doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
And just because your improvements are so tiny you can barely notice them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
A FINAL WORD (and thanks hehe)
I’m so glad you asked me about this because I wish I had this point of view when I was coaching.
I’m grateful to come back to gymnastics because I’m learning so much more about myself this second time around.
You allowing me to share this new-found insight means so much to me.
I hope you know that your gymnastics journey is so perfect the way it is, with your mental blocks and all, because you’re going to find yourself through it too.
It might feel like a super rough patch right now, but when you put in the time and effort to overcome this you’re going to feel so fucking proud.
That’s what sports are for, after all…To help us grow as humans.
And you’re going to be an ever better one on the other side of this.
It’s just a little blip in one little chapter of your human journey.
You got this 🙂
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