I have read, and wrote, many articles on how to overcome mental blocks, become fearless, or compete with confidence. We tell athletes to pay attention to any negative thoughts and change them into encouraging words. We have them focus by using performance cues and mental choreography, and we use relaxation and visualization techniques. Our athletes know what they need to do to become fearless, but it doesn’t always work.
These athletes say their positive words, they know how to focus, they have their coaches spot them, they can even perform their skills on Tumbl Trak with no problem, but the moment they step into place to attempt their skill on their own…they can’t/ don’t/ won’t go.
It’s not that they don’t want to go, they do. Many times they don’t understand what is going on in their heads. They almost become more frustrated because they think they have done everything right. They follow the advice from the articles, they tell themselves they can do it, it is easy, and they are good enough, but it doesn’t seem to work.
There seems to be a missing link. The information doesn’t fix the fear, in some cases the information doesn’t seem to help at all. Why?
Think of all the articles, tips, and advice as tools, but think of the mental block as a brick wall. Before, the athlete was trying to breakthrough the brick wall by pushing it with their bare hands. The harder they pushed, the stronger the wall felt. Over time, the more the wall started to feel like it was never going to move.
Mental training provides a plan and the tools to help breakthrough the wall. Now the athlete has a backpack full of useful and specific tools to help them weaken the wall and eventually, breakthrough.
Mental training is like the backpack.
Positive self-talk is like a hammer
Performance cues are like the blueprint, plan, or directions
-The missing link:
Many times the athlete is given the tools, told why they work, how to use them, then they are sent off back into the gym. If we think about our brick wall, first we come up with a plan or directions. 1. Start hitting the wall in one spot with the hammer. 2. Continue until there is a small hole. 3. Once there is a small hole, continue until the hole is bigger and you can get to the other side.
That sounds like a great and easy plan, but what happens when the wall doesn’t seem to be cracking at all? What if the athlete starts to doubt? What if the hammer is too small and isn’t making a difference or too big and they can’t hold it for long? What if they picked a really strong piece of the wall?Then what? This is the information that seems to be missing and this is the most important information of all.
Break the battle into manageable fights. Let’s say the athlete is afraid to do a back tuck. Once the athlete is in the air performing the tuck, they aren’t scared. In fact, the only part they are scared of is when they are standing on the floor trying to go for it. They are not scared to swing their arms, they are not afraid to pull the tuck around to their feet. Actually, there is only a small section of the tuck that stops them. It is jump. Once they jump, they are fine.
The battle isn’t really the entire back tuck, it is only the jump. Shrink the fear into a bite-size piece. The battle can be focused on only that small section of the jump, not the entire back tuck.
It’s like trying to get into a cold swimming pool. It is always that small section of your stomach that seems to be the issue. When you get into a pool, you have two choices; hold your breath and jump, or slowly walk in until each body part adjusts to the temperature.
When battling the back tuck, the athlete can hold their breath and focus on just the jump, or slowly move their arms until they get to the jump. Either way, they must battle. There will be that little voice that tells them to stop swinging their arms, they must fight it. They must keep going. They must keep fighting.
They will hear that bad voice, that doesn’t mean they have to listen. They can fight through it. They can win, little by little, chipping away at the wall. Learning to work, fight, and eventually breakthrough. If they keep using their tools, they keep working, and they keep fighting they will become stronger at the battle. If they keep at it, they will eventually win the battle.
The missing link being able to know how to take the articles, tips, and advice and use them the right way, and learning how to fight. It isn’t that easy. There is no mental block formula or magic pill; there is only hard work. They must learn the tools, apply the tools, and work. It will not be easy. But they will have the tools, the plan, and If the athlete wants to breakthrough, they will.
Wendy Bruce Martin was a member of the 1992 Olympic team and 5x national team member. She has been involved in gymnastics for 36 years and coaching for 22. She received a degree in psychology and is a certified mental toughness coach. Wendy owns the Mental Toughness Company, GET PSYCHED! and is co-owner of Gold Medal Moms. You can visit Wendy at www.Psyched4sports.com www.WendyBruceMartin.com or www.GoldMedalMoms.com email at firstname.lastname@example.org.