Case Study – Brain vs. Body

Today’s Topic: Case Study – Brain vs. Body

Hi everyone!  I’m Coach Rebecca with Complete Performance Coaching and the PerformHappy community.  I am going to give you all a case study on the brain vs. body.  This is a client that I worked with recently and I’m going to change up some of the specifics on her because I just have to share this with you.  She had this huge “Aha” moment.  For any of you who are dealing with fear or mental blocks, this is for you.

I’m going to tell you a little bit about this athlete in particular and then exactly what she needed to do and what you need to do in order to be able to get through your mental block.

Maddie’s Story

For this story, I’m going to call her Maddie.  Let’s say that Maddie is a level eight gymnast and she was badly injured.  She was injured a couple of times over the last couple of years and she had these different setbacks to her training.  Her healing happened in such a way that she was getting ready to compete for level eight.  The thought was, “Okay, you’ve got a couple of weeks and you’re healed!  Let’s try some skills.  Let’s get back out there.”  So she’s doing her beam series, she’s doing her dismount on bar, she’s getting some scary skills, skills that she had never had before but all of a sudden she’s doing it.  Then, she can’t today, but tomorrow she can.  It’s kind of back and forth.  She’s having good days, she’s having bad days, but she’s kind of doing it.

Success at the Meet

So Maddie goes to her first meet and she competes all four events.  Does it.  Gets through these skills that she was pretty scared of and goes to another meet and does it again.

Inconsistency at Practice

Meanwhile, in practice, she’s doing them sometimes, not doing them, sometimes doing them, sometimes not doing them.

Then she goes to another meet and she cannot do it.  She cannot do her vault, she cannot do her beam, she cannot do her bars.  Each event had a scary skill on it and the skills stopped working and she didn’t know why.  Meanwhile, she is getting horrible anxiety about going to meets, horrible anxiety about going to practice, and is asking, “Why is this happening?  I just did all of these skills and I did them at meets and now randomly I cannot do these skills.”

Pressure of being “In Season”

What she said in her mind was, “Okay, it’s impossible.  I can’t do it, so I have to work around it.”  For the rest of the season, she starts doing other skills.  She connects a couple of forwards skills, she has a different dismount, a different vault, and she just kind of works around it because her coach is saying, “Whoa, we’re in season.  What can you do?  Okay, let’s do that.”  She’s doing these modified routines and still has anxiety and isn’t eeling good.  She wants to get the actual skills and feels like she’s failing, poor thing, because she’s not doing the skills that she could already do, and of course she did it perfectly because she was ready and then all of a sudden she wasn’t.

Brain vs. Body

What we figured out was that she was not actually ready to do these skills.  Now, this might be confusing to many coaches or parents who are listening.  You think, “Well of course she was ready.  She did them and they were beautiful,” but that does not mean that she was actually ready.  There’s a difference between an athlete’s body being ready and an athlete’s mind being ready.  When it comes to brain vs. body, there are times where you can get your mind to cooperate temporarily and go for something, but for the most part, your brain is in charge.  If your brain doesn’t want to do it, it doesn’t matter how well your body can actually execute it.  What was happening to Maddie was she was doing these progressions too fast.

Rushing Progressions

There was a day where her coach made her throw all the mats in the pit for her dismount off bars, making her dismount harder really fast and she couldn’t do it.  She went to swing and let go to her hands, wouldn’t let go the bar, and she had a meltdown and the coach got mad. She didn’t do it ever again because she thought, “Okay, it’s impossible.  I can’t do it.”  It was the same thing with the beam series.  She’d given up on it and didn’t do it ever again.

She basically made up the story that, “My brain is broken.  It’s impossible.  I can’t do these skills. It’s just the way it is.” But then once she and I broke it down in session, it was so clear to me why this happened.  She didn’t know the difference between good fear and bad fear.

Good Fear vs. Bad Fear

Good fear is fear that you have to work through, the fear you push through when you know you’re okay, you know you’re safe, and you know you’re actually ready.  You don’t really want to do it but you know you’ll follow through and it’s going to be okay. That’s good fear.

Bad fear is that dread, that, “Oh no, oh my gosh.  I hope I don’t fall and land on my neck,” and you see flashbacks of things going wrong.   Everything that could possibly go wrong floods through your head, and then you try it anyway because you don’t want to get in trouble or because there was a meet coming up or because there was somebody in line or someone who’s going to be better than you if you don’t keep going – any number of reasons that make you stop listening to your brain.

Gymnast reaching for barBrain vs. Body

Something I explained to her is your brain is not broken.  Your brain is working really well and what your brain is telling you is you’re not ready.  You’ve only been back for two weeks.  You are not ready to do this yet, even though all the coach sees is that your body looks awfully ready.

This is what we have to learn to honor if we want to get through fear.  You have to learn to honor when your brain is telling you, “No, I’m not ready.”  We’re not listening to the body, we’re listening to the brain.  What she needs is to take those baby steps to actually take the time to teach her brain this skill, even though her body already knows the skill.

That can get really confusing.  It’s making sure you’re not in the bad nerves, you’re only in the good nerves.  You want that little bit of discomfort that helps you expand your comfort zone, not the bad nerves that make it feel impossible.

The Solution

Here’s what I recommended.  Start with what you can do, then build from there.  She started with, “What can’t you do?  Oh my gosh, you can’t do that.  Nope, you can’t do that either.  Oh, I can’t do this.  It’s impossible.  I can’t do it.”  That’s all she was thinking about all practice, so of course she was anxious going into meets or going into practice.  She was focusing heavily on what she couldn’t do.  Then she began to focus on what she could do, even though this was disappointing for her because she thought that she should be able to do harder things.

She just started with what she could.  We came up with a plan and we slowly worked through it and then we communicate with coaches.  That was the other thing that was missing.  When she was going for her dismount on the bars, her coach was saying things like, “You’re looking great!  Add the mats and go for it.  You got this girl, I believe in you,” and had really good intentions.

She didn’t understand what that sensation was inside of her, that bad nerve sensation, first of all.  Second of all, she didn’t understand how to communicate it to her coach so she could get something different to happen.  Later on, her coach goes, “You could’ve taken the mats out of the pit.  It’s fine.  You don’t have to do that,” but she didn’t know that.  She didn’t know that she could back it up a step.

Having a Plan

Well, now she knows.  Now she can back it up and she can communicate, she can have a plan and it’s the end of her season.  She has regionals and then she’s done.  Then she has all the time in the world, all spring, summer, and fall to slowly work up to these skills versus going, “I’m going to play with skills that are fun all summer.  I’m going to do some really cool, interesting new things,” and meanwhile her brain is saying to avoid the scary stuff.

What you want to be doing right now, right now at this time of year, right after your regional meet right after season ends, is you want to come up with that plan and decide to use your time wisely to slowly get your brain up to speed so when it’s time to compete, you will actually be ready and you will not be throwing skills that your brain is revolting against.

Building Confidence

As you’re going through the plan, that’s when you address your self-talk.  That’s when you do all of the other things that build confidence, all the things that we teach in the PerformHappy community, and the things I teach one-on-one with clients to make sure those images in your head are going away, that you’ve learned to trust yourself, that you learned to take it slow.

You take your perfectly working brain and start listening to it and working in conjunction with it so that you can move at the pace that your brain wants you to move at.  Now, this might not be the pace your coach wants you to move at, and it’s probably not the pace that you want to move at either, so decide what skill you want right now.

Decide what skill do you want this summer?  Which skill do you want to get?  What do you want to get back?  Which one do you want to work through?  Take it.  Ditch the backup plan.  Ditch the workaround.  What is the skill that you use, you want to get?

I actually want you to tell me.  Email me –  Dm me on Instagram.  Send me a message on Facebook.  Tell me the skill that you’re committed to that you’re going to ditch the backup plan and you’re going to get this summer, and then what’s your first step?

We’ve closed the doors to the PerformHappy community so that I can love on all the current members through their fears, but if you want to get on the waiting list, you can do that at and I’ll see you again soon.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you for joining me.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.