The true cause of mental blocks

Hey everybody, it’s Coach Rebecca. I had an awesome consultation call with a gymnast about mental blocks this morning and I wanted to share it with you.

Almost every time I talk to an athlete and their family about mental blocks there are usually some myths about what is really happening. In this athlete’s case, she had a skill mastered. Then about six months ago she started having trouble with it. For some background, this athlete is 14.

Mental blocks that cause a loss of skill

When I come across this problem of athletes losing a skill it tends to happen in that early teen/adolescent age range. There is a change that happens to athletes around that age for athletes. They go from these younger kids who just go for broke and go for all of these new “scary” skills. But then as they start to get older and see and do more, they start to realize “hey I could get hurt here”. Having that realization leads to some mental blocks. Most of the time the athletes don’t even know why they are scared or what they are scared of.

Sometimes it isn’t even fear

For some athletes it is fear. But for some athletes, it’s more like they have bricks in their skates when they try to do a skill. Most of the time they couldn’t tell you why they feel that way, but it can start to build some feelings that something is wrong or something is wrong with them. That just isn’t the case, these feelings are natural and common within the young athlete world.

What not to do if your athlete has a mental block

A lot of times parents and coaches see an athlete lose a skill and just assume it is fear-based. Whether it is fear-based or not there are a lot of wrong moves I see made often in the face of mental blocks. While they are usually done with the best of intentions, bribing, threatening, and making deadlines. Fear doesn’t respond to those tactics, it actually can make it worse. If the mental block is anxiety-based it isn’t a motivation issue so those won’t help either!

Mental blocks can be biological

It can be a total primal thing that happens within your body. Your brain cuts in and controls your body and sends you into freeze mode to keep you safe. While it can be a biological response, you can help control it by the way that you talk to/about yourself.

The way you think can be causing your mental blocks

Black and white thinking can be the destroyer of your confidence, and in turn, cause mental blocks. Black and white thinking puts you in this situation; you should be able to do that skill right now. You NEED to be able to do it right now. If you are not doing it right now you are failing. When you get stuck in that mindset you have to turn off your survival brain and turn on your creative brain. Instead of focusing on what you CAN NOT do, focus on what you CAN do. Then do that skill that you can do. That helps grow your confidence and make a deposit into your confidence piggy bank.

When you have nailed down what you can do, and what you want to be able to do, you can start to figure out what is in between.

What does the “in-between” look like

You can begin to create a type of road map between where you are and where you want to be. Create a list of little creative baby steps to get you from point A to point B. For a gymnast that can do a skill on the high bar but freezes that skill on the uneven bars, you can have the coach hold a pool noodle at double the distance the short bar would be from the high bar. When the gymnast can nail that skill and feel confident about it, move the pool noodle to the same distance as a regular set of uneven bars.

Every time she nails that skill at a new level of difficulty she is getting out of the black and white thinking and she is growing that confidence like crazy! With that confidence, she is convincing her brain that she is safe and that she can do the skill and not get hurt. That elevates the brain’s need for the biological response we talked about earlier. Eventually, that confidence is going to break down any mental blocks revolving around that skill and she will be back to the fierce gymnast she has always been!

Communication is key

To be able to find out what that athlete needs, they have to be able to communicate with coaches. They also need a coach who is open and willing to listen and be creative. What happens when you run into a coach who isn’t open and isn’t willing?

There is actually an entire module in Perform Happy dedicated to parents communicating with coaches and also athletes communicating to coaches. We get questions about communicating with coaches all the time. We decided it would be best to just create a module for everyone to be able to access!

A drop in confidence

After all, is said and done, most mental blocks are due to a drop in confidence. Once you can find the source of the drop you can begin to work through it and build confidence to get through the mental blocks.

If you just can’t seem to put your finger on it

Sometimes it is just plain hard to nail down exactly what caused the confidence drop or the mental block. Especially if you are close to the athlete and the situation it can be hard to see the whole picture! We would love to have you sign up for a FREE consultation with one of our coaches! Sometimes just talking about it with someone who understands and chatting it out, brings so many things to light.

With that consult, we can also point you in the direction of some additional support that your athlete and you might benefit from! We offer a few different options and can help you figure out what is best for you! As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out and schedule a FREE consultation.

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