Signs Your Gymnast Needs a Sports Psychologist

Everyone knows and recognizes that gymnastics is a very physical sport, but not everyone understands how truly mental the sport is as well. It takes a lot of emotions for gymnasts to be able to do the things they do in the gym. For instance, dismounting from high bars, or tumbling through the air can’t be done without a bit of bravery, planning, and tough mentalities. For this reason, it’s important to understand when your gymnast needs to see or could benefit from seeing a sports psychologist. Below, we will go over the signs your gymnast needs help, what to expect when you take your child to a psychologist, and how it will help in the long run.

Symptoms of a Gymnastics Slump

Just like other sports, gymnasts are prone to slumps. Some slumps are short-lived and others can become mental blocks. One of the most notorious mental blocks that a gymnast could go through include a fear of backwards tumbling. The tough part about dealing with slumps is realizing whether a gymnast will come out of the slump themselves or recognizing if they need help from a sports psychologist. Below are signs and symptoms that your gymnast could benefit from a few sessions with a sports psychologist.

  • Performs well in practice but not in competitions
  • Gets upset easily over mistakes
  • Making more mental errors than previously
  • Lose of motivation
  • Flounders or freezes often
  • Easily distracted
  • Fear of failure
  • Anxiety associated with practice or competitions

Talk to Your Coaches

Some parents don’t feel like they can approach their children’s coaches and others seem to track their coaches down wherever and whenever they feel like it. The truth is there needs to be a healthy balance. Parents shouldn’t feel like they can’t talk to coaches, but if there is something really important going on, call the gym and set-up a time to talk to one or many of your gymnast’s coaches. The one thing most coaches will tell you is if they need to talk to you, they will. For instance, most coaches have either been coaching for years or were a gymnast themselves. Coach’s experience allows them to recognize blocks, fears, and performance anxieties right away. What this means is if your child’s coach notices a problem they will tell you. Sometimes your coach will have suggestions for you and sometimes they will be at a lost. If you are considering sending your child to a sports psychologist it’s probably a good idea to run past your coaches. Many times a coach will have a suggestion for you or your gym may get discounts at a particular facility.

Gymnasts May Need Counseling After an Injury

A gymnast may also need counseling after suffering from or recovering from an injury. Whether the injury was caused in or out of the gym often effects the need for counseling. For instance, if a gymnast broke her arm dismounting from the bars, she may be terrified to get on the bars again. If an ankle injury from running to the vault caused an injury the fear could be solely related to the vault. Some athletes will be terrified of everything at the gym when they are recovering or returning to practice. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome after an injury is diminished confidence. If a psychologist can work with an athlete to overcome the lack of confidence or the loss of confidence based on the injury, the athlete may be able to return to the sport quickly and easily. Or, at least faster and easier than they would have without the aid of a psychologist.

How a Sports Psychologist Helps

There are many ways a sports psychologist can help a gymnast. Like many psychologist/counselor relationships, there is no surefire plan that is perfect for every athlete. However, there are some areas where a sports psychologist can concentrate including overcoming performance fears, developing a pre-game routine, and developing preshot routines. During your child’s initial visit with the psychologist, they will work to determine the foundation of the athlete’s fears. Once the fears have been established, a psychologist will work with your child to overcome these fears and help them determine what coping skills will help them get better.

Overcoming Performance Fears

If your athlete has lost their confidence due to performance fears, a psychologist will teach them how to overcome these obstacles. As many gymnasts’ parents will tell you, some fears and mental blocks seem to pop out of nowhere when it comes to gymnastics. One day your child is doing fine tumbling and the next they have decided they can no longer tumble backwards. These blocks can come and go and last only a few days or well over a year. By employing a sports psychologist allows your child to know what to do when they feel these fears creeping up on them. Once they learn the skills, they can use them whenever they need too.

Developing a Pre-Game Routine

For the gymnasts that shine in practice and flounder in competition, it might be beneficial to work with a psychologist to develop a pre-game routine. During sessions, the psychologist and your athlete will work together to get to the basis of what is causing them to be distracted and work to create a strategy that eliminates the distraction and helps keep them more focused. Once the pre-game routine is established, your child will have the skills they need and can repeat them on a regular basis.

Developing Pre-Shot Routines

When a fear is based solely on one skill such as backwards tumbling or vaulting on a table, a psychologist can help develop a pre-shot routine. This routine is created based solely on this one event or skill. What this means is that they will develop a way that the athlete can prepare themselves mentally.