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It’s 90% Mental

DSC_0273That may be an understatement. Gymnastics is a sport that takes an incredible amount of strength, flexibility, and discipline. But once you have these traits, what pushes you to learn new skills or holds you back from progressing to the next level? Most likely, the mental aspect.

Learning new skills is usually the fun part of gymnastics. It starts at a young age and might be as simple as a somersault. It is something that the athlete attempts time and again and finally lands on her feet. After weeks of “tries” it now becomes a make. Adding a new skill to a gymnasts repertoire is fulfilling. It is frequently a shared experience including coaches, teammates, and parents.

Kids that learn new skills generally love gymnastics more. They want to stay in the sport longer.

So what happens when a child that is learning new skills, excelling at the sport, says she wants to quit?

First off, it is normally baffling to the parent and coach alike. There is a lack of understanding as to “WHY?”. Don’t get me wrong, it is sometimes the right time for an athlete to retire (despite what I tell my current ones), but when an athlete that is climbing toward her peak utters the words, “I want to quit”, it is heart wrenching.

My first plan of attack, that often requires long talks with the parent is “why?”. Some ready-to-retire athletes have a long list of why: I want to play volleyball, I am going to get involved in my high school, I want to coach more than I want to compete. But when the answer is “I am afraid of a ….” [enter any skill, especially flyaway], I actually sigh in relief.

Athletes that think they want to quit because of a skill rarely actually want to quit gymnastics. They are facing a mental block, often completely unrealistic that they are physically unable to perform the skill. What if they get hurt? What if the coach gets upset if they don’t make it? What if EVERYONE else gets it before them?

The good news is, these kids need reassurance. They need to be told – you will get this skill, it will take time, and I have a plan. You are not going to fall behind because of one skill, but you do have to communicate when it is bringing you down, in some instances literally paralyzing the athlete.

As a coach, it is to my benefit to play the situation down. My general feedback for the athlete is: “I’m not worried. I have a plan.” Athletes like knowing that they are not disappointing, not behind, and not in trouble. It is our job as coaches and parents to get that message to them.

Mental blocks appear all over our sport. Getting new skills, performing a skill the athlete has done 1,000 times, competing, or sometimes just a simple change of scenery can cause some sort of mental frustration. The good news is, mental blocks can be overcome, reduced in frequency, and provide a positive learning experience for the athlete.

Overcoming a mental block in sport allows the athlete to transfer this same skill not only to a recurrence of a dreaded mental block, but to the real world. Perseverance is learned.

So the next time you witness your child with a mental block, take a deep breath, get to the root of the problem, and rememeber that this is preparing them to be a more successful adult.

After all, it is 90% mental.

September 9, 2015 | Blog | 0

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