THE ATHLETE. THE DRIVEN. THE COMPETITIVE. THE MOTIVATED.
THE DETERMINED. THE FEARLESS. THE BRAVE.
Athletes are a special breed of people making for an interesting topic in psychology. How can an athlete pick themselves up in the middle of death-gripping fear and make the decision to “feel the fear and do it anyway!”? How can an athlete convince themselves to practice day after day, hour after hour, month after month, year after year? What allows an athlete to experience defeat in competition and go back in for more? Athletes are some of the most mentally tough people overcoming grief, anxiety, fear, pain, loss, depression, all seemingly by their sheer willpower! And then… DOOMS DAY…a mental block happens and even the most basic of skills seems trapped in the path of this domino effect…FEAR TAKES CONTROL…YOUR MIND LOCKS…YOUR HEART DROPS…you feel the fear and now you just can’t seem to do it in any way. How is this happening to you? Why is this happening to you? Is it possible to break past and block out the fear?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Athletes, I know these words are of no comfort to you in your time of stress, but mental blocks in aerial sports (gymnastics, trampoline, diving, etc.) runs at about 70% will experience a mental block! Here’s the bad news… research has no clue as to what causes mental blocks! Here’s the good news…THERE IS HELP, HOPE, AND SKILLS to learn to feel the fear and do it anyway (again)! If we know that 70% of athletes will experience a mental and we know that 70% are not quitting their sport, then we know there is a very high success rate in recovering from mental blocks. This is the hope…If athletes of past can overcome a mental block YOU ARE AN OVERCOMER TOO!
1. KNOW YOU’RE AN OVERCOMER, first a foremost… YOU ARE CAPABLE; your history as an athlete tells you this! Your mind-body connection is well developed making much of a mental block a problem of over analyzing this specific skill. Muscle memory, aerial awareness, these allow the athlete to perform in autopilot. A mental block is when cruise control is turned off!
2. AVOID SHAMING YOURSELF! I know, I know how else are you supposed to feel? You’re a perfectionist, accomplished athlete and now just look at what you’re struggling with! This type of thinking will be YOUR WORST ENEMY! Use what you know: this is common in my sport and I will overcome this. My body is physically capable and so is my mind!
3. VISUALIZE, VISUALIZE, VISUALIZE! I cannot stress this enough! You are an athlete, your mind-body connection is supernaturally strong, USE IT! Visualize the skill, feel the skill, move through the skill. Your mind is so connected that it does not know the difference in this type of mental trial run versus actually physically performing the skill. Watch videos of yourself performing this skill! Soak it in…that is you doing this skill!
4. TALK TO YOURSELF! Yes, this is critical…but talk POSITIVELY to yourself! As you visualize yourself performing talk calmly to yourself “breathe, run hard, strong hurdle, arms up, wait on the set…” you are talking yourself through the skill CALMLY. Your body is already anxious, being calm during this mental run through is critical!
5. BACK TO THE BASICS! Your least favorite word…drills! Going back to the basics in combination with visualization and talking to yourself is POWERFUL! You are putting all of your mental training into action in a safe place: drills! This allows for your mind-body connection to activate muscle memory and is the cruise control switch that was accidentally turned off! Go back as far as you can and remember…do NOT shame yourself for this, 70% of athletes go through this and the one’s that overcome have done exactly what you’re doing right now!
6. BREATHE. Anxiety/Fear changes your breathing pattern to shorter more quick breaths. Did you know that this type of breathing will trigger a rapid heart rate even if you are not aware your breathing has changed? Yep, that’s right! Your body is responding to the clues you are unknowingly giving it alerting it that I AM SCARED! HELP! This is where we get jello-legs, sweaty palms, the pit in your stomach…it begins typically with a change in your breathing! GOOD NEWS…this is a VERY EASY FIX! Be mindful and breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, breathe out for 8 counts, repeat! This will reverse everything and create a calm place to practice your mental game!
It is always good to be in communication with your coach. Look to a counselor or sport psychologist to work through your mental block with you outside of the sport atmosphere. You can learn these skills above and many many more! Working with a counselor or psychologist can relieve the pressure to perform your way through a mental block and to learn lifelong skills to help you to feel your fear, push past the fear, and to do it anyway!