One day you are tumbling and learning new skills and the next day you find yourself suddenly not throwing your round off back handspring. You are anxious and wonder if this is the start of a mental block. You have seen other gymnasts in your gym have mental blocks and you know how challenging they can be. You start to panic. On your way home all you can think about is your mental block and how this might end your career. The next day when it is time to practice floor, your heart starts to pound, your palms start to sweat, and you say to yourself “I don’t want to tumble today. I know I am going to crash. I am so scared.” This goes on for days, then weeks, and eventually turns into months. You have gotten to the point where you have to do something different to get over your mental block…
Here are some tips.
1. Figure out what happened the moment the block started. Many gymnasts will say that they don’t know the reason they are fearful. You may not realize what the exact reason it was, but try to find a starting place. Answer these questions: Were you physically prepared to perform the skill? Were you mentally tired or unfocused? Did you watch someone get injured or balk on this skill?
2. It is important to understand that the reason the block started is not a reason to continue to have the block. When you make a mistake, learn from it. If you were not physically prepared to throw your skill, your lesson would be to that next time make sure that you have worked the drills and conditioning that you need to be prepared.
3. What is your self-talk? What negative statements do you say to yourself that may continue to feed your fear? Replace negative self-talk with powerful commands when you think about the skill. Instead of saying “I hate tumbling, I am going to land on my head.” Replace that with “ I can do this, I am strong and I can make it.”
4. Fill your mind with performance cues. Performance cues are reminders or prompts that you say to yourself while you are performing the skill. For example, when performing a handstand, it is important to lock out your shoulders, squeeze your legs together, and look at your hands. The performance cues for a handstand could be “lock- squeeze”
5. Create a routine. Before you attempt the fearful skill make sure you are prepared. For example, take a deep breath, visualize or feel yourself performing the skill successfully, walk into your beginning position and take another deep breath. Say your performance cues three times, count to three and then go.
6. Get ready to fight for it. After learning steps 1-5 you will be ready with the tools needed to overcome a mental block. But it won’t be easy. Once you get in position to try the skill you may “hit a wall”. You want to do it, but there is something inside of you telling you to stop. Get ready to fight those thoughts. You know those thoughts will spring into your head, don’t let them win. It will be a fight you can win.
Good Luck and remember, you are stronger than you think. There is no easy answer or magic pill, but YOU have the power inside you to breakthrough.
My 10 yr old cheerleader has been dealing with a mental block for over 3 months now, and it is beginning to feel like she is never going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is only her 2nd season in cheer, but she developed very quickly with tumbling. She could barely do a cartwheel at the beginning of her first year of level 1, and by the end of that season, she had a back/front walkover, all back handspring skills both standing and running, RO tuck, aerial, and even a standing tuck! It was the day after she landed her standing tuck for the first time that she started to block occasionally on her standing handspring (first clue to me that learning fast may not be a good thing!), and then in August, she was doing a handspring at a trampoline park and a little boy ran in front of her and she tried to stop mid air and landed on her neck. She was not hurt, but it really scared her. The next day at cheer, she froze on her handspring, and fell on her head attempting an ‘easy’ walkover. We have tried everything, visualizing at bedtime, writing positive affirmations on paper every night before bed, lots of open gym and lessons, and her level 2.coaches have put zero pressure on her to tumble, and she seems to improve for a few days only to regress again a few days later. She even started getting all of her skills back at the end of October, and we finally thought we were turning a corner as her confidence seemed to be high again, and then a week later, she got nervous on a RO handspring and balked and fell again on her back of her neck, and now she is afraid to do anything again. Oddly enough, at her first comp of the season this past weekend, she threw her standing handspring and walkover handspring, but then the next day was afraid to try it again. It has been such an up and down roller coaster, and as a mom I am exhausted by the stress of it. I hate seeing her self esteem so low…we put her in cheer to build it up, not bring it down. We try to stress to her that nothing about cheer is worth getting this upset or stressed about, we do not expect her to be a world champ someday…we just want it to be fun…..but she takes it very seriously and she puts pressure on herself because she feels like she is failing.
Any advice on how to approach a mental block with a child. I find that many of the tips I see online are more geared towards teenagers. Some of her coaches think the best solution is to just ignore it altogether and let her sort it out in time by herself….no talking about it, no tumbling lessons, no pressure to tumble in her routine.
Thank you for your question. When a child has a mental block, it can be very frustrating for the parent because we feel helpless. We don’t want to ignore it but we aren’t sure what to do.
Your daughter may associate tumbling with fear because of the situations that you mentioned. When she thinks of tumbling, she may feel nervous, sick to her stomach, her heart my speed up, and her plans may start to sweat. The first thing parents can do is let her know that there are more skills in cheerleading that make up a routine and not to define her worth based on one part. It may even sound like she learned a standing tuck which is a very difficult skill and may not have been mentally ready: did she start to doubt her ability, wonder if she would have to do even harder skills that were scary, maybe she wanted to try a tuck but not put it in the routine yet. Overthinking or thinking too far in the future may have given her fears.
It is not uncommon for an athlete to perform a skill in a competition and then come back into the gym and still be scared. The fear of not throwing it was greater than the fear of performing it.
As a parent, you can ask her what she thinks about. Does she think about blocking, freaking out, or nothing at all? Have her tell you how to do a standing tuck, or tumbling pass, whichever she is scared of. If she doesn’t know, then that may be why she doesn’t go. She has to know HOW to do the skill and what she is going to have her body do.
Have her talk to herself with strong and powerful words.
As parents, it is important that we give her the tools to overcome challenges, but don’t try to rescue her. Let her find hers strength while giving her the tools to do it.
She may also be worried that she is letting her parents down or disappointing them. Let her know that she is loved regardless of performance.
For more help please email me at Getmepsyched@gmail.com