Mind Over Matter: Mental Blocks

mental-block-gymnastics

Gymnastics is a fun sport. It is thrilling, an adrenaline rush, and being a gymnast is something that makes life exciting. At the same time though, gymnastics can be a scary, dangerous sport. At anytime a mental block can form, and sometimes it could be the end of gymnastics for a gymnast. But I hope that if anyone reading this forms a mental block or their child does that they read this first because there is a way out of the mental block.

What is a Mental Block?

A mental block in gymnastics is something that happens when an gymnast can no longer mentally perform a skill. By perform, I mean, physically a gymnast can do the skill but something in their mind is stopping them.

What is it Like to Have a Mental Block?

Mental blocks are not something to ignore. They can be very serious and it is very stressful for the gymnast with the mental block. Personally, I had a mental block while I was in gymnastics. I had the most common mental block that gymnasts get, backwards tumbling. Tumbling is a fun activity and most of the time it is thrilling and exciting. But, one mistake can turn your brain off from tumbling backwards.

Getting a mental block is a terrible feeling. The feelings a gymnast has with mental blocks are self-doubt, confusion, fear (of the skill and other people, to be explained later), and anger.

  • Self-doubt: When a gymnast gets a mental block on a skill, they start to think negatively about themselves. They will blame themselves for not going. The biggest conflict that comes from a mental block is that a gymnast will constantly wonder, “Am I going to go or not?” That is the scariest question a gymnast can ask themselves because if a gymnast goes into a skill not knowing if they will go for it then they could bail on the skill and get hurt. Also, bailing on the skill will make the mental block even worse.
  • Confusion: If a gymnast has a mental block then they are confused. Most of the time when a gymnast develops a mental block, it becomes confusing to them why they have it. It could have been a bad fall that caused it but it could happen for no reason. Gymnastics skills can be scary at first and having a mental block makes it confusing for the gymnast on how to approach the mental block.
  • Fear: There are 2 types of fears when it comes to mental blocks.
    • The fear of the actual skill(s): Of course if a gymnast has a mental block they are afraid to do a certain skill or multiple skills. Thoughts of “what if?” start to play in the head of a gymnast. “What if I fall?”, “What if I get hurt?”, “What if I don’t make it?”, Etc. The fear of the skill eventually starts to take over the gymnasts mind and at that point it makes it hard for the gymnast to push through it because they are in constant fear.
    • The fear of coaches, teammates, and parents: When a gymnast gets a mental block it is scary for themselves but also it is scary to tell people about it. When gymnasts are scared of a skill, they are usually too scared to talk to their coaches about it. Gymnasts want to make their coaches happy and having a mental block makes a gymnast think that their coach will be mad at them. The same goes for their parents. Gymnasts will have a hard time communicating with their parents about the mental block because parents usually don’t understand them and question why their gymnast won’t go for the skill. Also, there is the fear of teammates. Being in gymnastics means your friends are your teammates. Having a mental block makes a gymnast feel embarrassed, especially when all of their teammates aren’t having a problem with a skill. Both fears make it hard for gymnastics to remain fun.
  • Anger: Another emotion that comes with mental blocks is anger. Gymnast will mostly be angry with themselves. It is frustrating because deep down they will want to do the skill but their mind and body won’t connect. Gymnasts will be angry with what is going on and most of the anger will come from the fact that they don’t know how to fix it.

How to Help a Gymnast With a Mental Block:

  • Coaches: As a coach, it can be frustrating when a gymnast forms a mental block. But no matter what, a coach needs to be patient with their gymnast. Yelling at them will only make them feel worse. Putting pressure on them will be stressful. As a former gymnast and now coach, I have dealt with mental blocks on both sides. From experience, I have learned that being patient is the number one key. Sometimes it will take going back to step one of learning a skill. Coaches will need to be encouraging to their gymnast when dealing with a mental block. If a coach gets angry with the gymnast, that will only instill more fear for them and therefore it will make overcoming the skill even more difficult.
  • Parents: The number one thing parent can do for a gymnast with a mental block is to remain encouraging. Parents, do not pester your gymnast about why they won’t go. Definitely do not threaten them with quitting because that will only put more pressure on them and instill more fear. Instead, try to help your gymnast focus on the good things that happened at practice. It may even help to not even bring up the mental block. The less a parent stress it, the less of a big deal it seems to be for the gymnast. Just keep encouraging your gymnast and help them realize that they can and will over come the mental block.
  • Teammates: If you are a parent of a gymnast who is a teammate of a gymnast with a mental block, here are something to tell your gymnast to do to their teammate. Don’t make fun of them or ask them why they aren’t going. Don’t say it is an easy skill and they should just go for it. Instead, tell your gymnast to be helpful and nice to their teammate. To not make fun of their troubles and to be supportive of them. That will make the gymnast with a mental block feel more comfortable at practice.

Gymnast with a Mental Block:

I promise you CAN DO THIS. It is 100% possible to overcome a mental block. I have seen it happen with my own eyes and it is an amazing thing to witness. Remind yourself that this is only temporary and it will pass. In order to overcome a mental block, it may take a lot of mental strength. You have to learn how to block out the negative thoughts and let your body take control. Mental blocks are all mental (makes sense right?) because physically your body can do the skill but something in your mind is stopping you from doing so. You might have to go back to the basics of the skill. Start over. Or even take a day or two off to just let your mind rest. But, don’t give up. You can overcome this mental block and when you do, you will love the sport of gymnastics even more.

 

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