A Letter to Coaches on Mind Blocks
To the Coaches and Tumbling Instructors:
One of the hardest things for coaches to deal with is an athlete with a mind block. The problem with mind blocks is that they are all different. Not one mind block is exactly like the next one. This is why they are so hard to deal with. Sally might need someone to be hard on her and push her, while Susan will break down and not throw anything that day if you treat her that same way. So, as coaches, what do we do in this situation? We want our athlete to throw the skills we all know they have, we want them to be successful because we know they can. However, we can’t do it for them. We can’t want it for them. We can’t make them do it. We can want to, and we can try to, but until the athlete has decided for themselves that they want to do this skill more than anything else, it’s out of our control. However, we can help.
1. ALWAYS REINFORCE THAT THEY CAN DO THE SKILL
Even though the athlete isn’t throwing the skill at this current time, you and her/him both know that they are very capable of doing it. Always tell them that. Be the person that is telling them, “YOU know you can do this, so let’s do it.” Never say “well even though you’re NOT throwing the skill, lets…” you can change it up to, “You’ve thrown the skill before and you know you can, so let’s…”
2.NEVER TELL THEM WHAT THEY ARE INCAPABLE OF DUE TO THE BLOCK
Your athlete doesn’t want to hear what they are missing out on because of their mind block. For example, I would not tell my athlete, “You’re not going to be in the front of jumps because you can’t tumble out of your toe touch.” Chances are, your athlete already knows that. Some of them have probably already gotten moved out of their jump spot to another where they are hidden. They have seen the negative; you telling them will just make it harder on them and make them feel worse about themselves. Negative reinforcement is never a good method when it comes to athletes with mind blocks. Always let them know that when they do start throwing, that they can move their way back up in the formation. That may give them slight motivation to start throwing.
3. ALWAYS BE SOMEONE THEY CAN COME AND TALK TO ABOUT IT
As someone that has struggled with a mind block, I know that it can be physically and mentally exhausting. Sometimes talking to someone about it is one of the easiest ways to ease your own mind. Let them ask questions, let them just vent to you. Even though it is very stressful and frustrating thing for you, trust me, its 10 times worse for them. Let them talk. It is like anything else, you feel relief after you’ve gotten something off of your mind.
4. NEVER COMPARE THEIR SKILLS TO ANOTHER ATHLETE’S SKILLS
One of the worst things to do with an athlete with a block is compare them to someone else. Most people that have a block have an inner competitor in them and they begin to compare themselves to everyone else that is doing the skills they used to be able to do. Putting someone “up against” someone else, will just make their self-esteem go down because they know that they could be doing those skills just as good if not better. This becomes just another thing that their mind block is holding them back from doing.
5. ALWAYS TELL THEM HOW FAR THEY HAVE COME
I can remember when I first got my mind block; my tumbling instructor had to throw me over. I would sit in their arms then they literally had to pick me up and flip me over because I was that terrified of the skill. As the months went by, I was hesitating but I was throwing. When I would have an off day I would look back and always tell myself, “I’m jumping. That’s so much better than just a couple months ago. I’ve came a far way.” I know this always helped me, because an off day is hard for anyone, ESPECIALLY athletes with mind blocks. If you constantly remind the athlete of how much better they’ve gotten it’s always a confidence boost and they will feel so much better about themselves. Even if it’s just something slight, tell them so they know that it’s a step in the right direction.
6. NEVER THREATEN TO TAKE THEM OUT OF A ROUTINE
As frustrating as it might be, your athlete is trying. They want to tumble again; they want to be like their friends again. Threatening things such as sitting them out a game, or taking them out of your routine, will only stress them out. That is the LAST thing you want to add onto your athlete. Trust me; mind blocks are very stressful on the athlete. When you are threatening a child of something like that, you’re just adding something else to their plate.
7. ALWAYS BE THE TEACHER/INSTRUCTOR THEY CAN TRUST
On a “normal” athlete, you may be able to pull your arm out from under them and they might not be fazed. You can do that to some people and it gives them confidence that they can do it by themselves. This is NOT the case for an athlete with a mind block. A mind block is a trust block. They have trouble trusting themselves and the last thing you want to do is have them lose trust in you as well. Personally, I’ve seen teachers pull out on some kids and I wouldn’t dare let them spot me because I knew in my head that they would do that to me. Once you’ve lost their trust, you will never fully get it back.
8. NEVER GIVE UP ON THEM
With every mind block I’ve ever worked with, they have always told me when they’re ready. I remember one of my girls just telling me, “I don’t think I’m going to need a spot on this one.” I’d never been so happy to hear those words in my life! I struggled on and off with a mind block for about 7 years and I knew when I was ready. They take time! I’ve seen so many teachers just give up on an athlete and eventually the athlete gives up on themselves.
An athlete going through a block needs some extra attention. They need structure, encouragement, and most of all trust. While this is hard on you, it’s even harder on the athlete. So be their support system, be the person to push them to get those skills back, and be that person that is always there for them.