- Dr. Patrick Cohn
Pushing Through Mental Blocks
Mental blocks in tumbling one of the most common reasons why gymnasts and cheerleaders seek out mental training. One day you are tumbling fine, the next day you won’t go backwards, and you don’t know why. There have been many articles written about “How to overcome fears and mental blocks” and we read the articles and follow along with the recommended advice.
Make sure you are physically ready to perform the skill.
Get rid of any labels you, your parents, coaches, or teammates have placed on you like “I don’t tumble” “I am a mental case” “I don’t go backwards”.
Make sure your self-talk is encouraging like “I got this” and “I am strong” and you don’t say negative comments to yourself like “I am going to fall on my head” or “I am going to break my ankle”.
Take calming breathes before each turn to relax if you feel anxious, or jump up and down and speed up your heart rate if you want to pump yourself up.
Focus on performance cues to yourself before, during, and after the skill. For example when performing a standing tuck the performance cues may be “ chest (for the set), pull (during the tuck), strong (for the landing)”.
Make sure you know you are going to throw the skill before you walk up to go. If you think that you are not going to do it, don’t play around. The more you walk up and continue to balk, the more you are “proving” to yourself that you can’t do it. So be honest with yourself. If you know you aren’t going to go…don’t.
You have heard this all before and you practice all these steps consistently, but you still won’t throw the skill by yourself. You will throw it with your coach standing there with one finger on your back, and you know they are not helping you at all and that you can throw it by yourself, but something is stopping you. You don’t trust yourself.
When your coach is standing there next to you and spotting you, this is your security blanket. Whether you need a spot or not, one part of you is thinking that you are not capable of putting 100% trust in yourself. Part of you still thinks that just the presence of your coach standing there is the reason you can throw your skill. Start to trust yourself. Logically you know you are doing the skill by yourself, you can do the skill by yourself, and you want to throw it by yourself.
Here’s a common scenario we see in gymnastics about mental blocks… You walk up to do the skill by yourself, as you are walking to your spot you “know” you are going to go for it. Then in a snap this blanket of doubt and anxiety rush over you, and you feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and scared. You lost that feeling of wanting to go for it and your fear of doing the skill won. So here is the secret. You have to fight through that point.
And it is going to be a fight to overcome your mental block in tumbling. You have one voice in your head saying “go, go, go” and then you have that other voice that says “stop, stop, stop”. And you usually listen to the stop voice because you think that in order to go for it; the only voice you will hear is the one saying go. But it isn’t like that. You may hear that voice that says stop, so be ready to hear it. And when you do hear it, be prepared to fight. Don’t let it win. Fight the battle, keep pushing through and understand that you will feel uncomfortable. You will feel vulnerable and you will feel scared, but that is O.K. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t throw the skill, it just means that you feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and scared. Fight through it, it won’t be easy, but you can will this battle over the mental block.
The more times you can win the battle, the better prepared you will be to be to fight through mental blocks in the future. So start on a surface that you feel comfortable with and build your confidence. Each time you move your skill to a new surface (moving from pit to resi-pit to hard ground) you may need to be ready to fight another fight. This is normal. And be ready to fight. Little by little you will notice that the fight may be less and less, but don’t be surprised if one day you have to fight harder or not at all. There is no perfect feeling you will have. Stay focused and use your performance cues. And be ready to fight for it.