Let’s face it, mental blocks are very real and something you may have to deal with at some point in your tumbling career. Personally, I hope you never get them and tumble fearlessly forever.
However, after coaching so many athletes over the years, I’ve come to realize that even the best of the best will experience some type of mental hiccup which will put a damper on their training.
One of the most annoying things about a mental block is that the cause is usually hard to pinpoint – it could because of bailing on a skill, getting hurt, social pressure, competition pressure, or some other stressful experience.
But, there are two things I know for certain when it comes to mental blocks:
- They are always triggered by something and are never spontaneous. Even if the trigger is very minor, it’s always there.
- They can always be overcome as long as you keep an open mind by trying different solutions till something works.
In fact, I think breaking past a mental block is like trying to open an unfamiliar lock while holding a keychain with 50 different keys on it. You know one of them will work, but you’re not sure which one… so the only thing you can do is keep trying until the lock pops open.
Think of each one of these “keys” as a mental-block-busting tool we have at our disposable; tools such as drills, spots from coaches, different training equipment, different facilities and so on. But today, I’m going to reveal five odd and completely out of the box methods that you can add to your “keychain” to help you overcome your mental block.
I’ve used each one of these methods in the past either personally or with my athletes, so I know they work. But the only way you’ll know if it works for you, is to try them out.
Method 1: Osmosis
In the self-development world, there’s a very well known success principal which states that if you want to be rich and successful, you should start hanging around rich and successful people. Sounds weird, but it actually does work – take a struggling business owner, have him hang around a bunch of successful business owners and within a few years, his income will start to catch up to those around him.
Well it’s not magic, or law of attraction, or that his new his new successful friends “make it rain” on his head at every given chance. Instead, the struggling person will start to model those that he deems successful (provided his coachability index is high).
So if they start giving public speeches, he’ll start to give public speeches.
If they build a website, he’ll have a website.
If they start a facebook fan page, he’ll do the same. It’s not copying, it’s modeling; there is a difference.
So how can we use this to help our tumbling?
Let’s say you can do tucks and layouts just fine, but when it comes to twisting, you just can’t seem to do the damn thing. How can you fix this twisting problem?
First, make sure you and your coach have a plan in place with ample drills to get you used to twisting again. Here’s a video is my athlete Holly, showing a good drill for a handspring full.
However, when you walk outside the gym, start watching lots and lots of videos of other people doing the full – specially those that have a similar physical build as yours.
Next, seek out and start hanging around those who can do the full. Ask them questions, help them with anything they need, and just put yourself in an environment where you’re surrounded by those that have what you want.
Sounds oddly simple, and maybe even a bit voodoo, but I can tell you personally that this works wonders!
Every year I go to Woodward, I spend time hanging with world champion calibre tumblers. And every year, I’ve come back a better athlete with new skills, new insights, new drills… new everything! I’m a whole new person. Barriers that I thought I had simply vanish away, and I don’t even know how it happens. It just does.
And when I’m not training, I’m either eating, sleeping or watching videos of tumbling.
But the great thing is that you don’t have to go to Woodward to do this, just surround yourself with success and eventually you’ll have no choice but to live up to the standard set by your environment.
Success does rub off, just don’t demand a deadline for it; let it happen naturally.
Method 2: Act It Out
This is an advanced form of visualization. What you want to do is stand on the floor you’ll be tumbling on, then basically do a “run through” of your tumbling pass that’s as realistic as possible, without actually doing much of the tumbling pass it self.
This allows the neurons in the brain to build up the connections necessary and it trains your motor patterns so that when you finally do decide to do the pass, it’s almost second nature (or unconsciously competent, for those of you that’ve read my earlier work.)
For example, if you were trying to act out a round off > back handspring > full, here’s how it should go down:
- Do the round off (be sure that your run takes the same amount of steps that you usually do. No more, no less.)
- After you land the round off, throw your arms up and arch your back to pretend you just did a handspring, without actually doing it.
- While moving backwards, throw your arms up again to practice the set for a full.
- Jump straight up in the air, and do a standing jump full turn, putting your arms in the exact same position you use for the full, and land back on your feet.
- Finally, don’t forget that Act It Out is a visualization technique at heart, so in your mind you should really see yourself doing the pass. In fact, you should almost feel it.
To someone watching from afar, it might look a little odd. Some might say this is stupid or silly, and that you should “just go for it.”
But don’t let the doubters fool you, because visualization is one of the most powerful tools we have as athletes.
Let me give you an example
Have you heard about the 4 minute mile? Before Roger Bannister came along and completely destroyed people’s expectation of what a human body was capable of, running a mile in four minutes or less was deemed “physically impossible” by doctors, sports specialists and coaches.
Simply because it had never been done before, and those that tried it previously kept failing. At some point, instead of persevering onwards, every runner simply accepted it as “fact” that the human body just cannot run a mile in under 4 minutes.
Kind of like how many gymnasts and tumblers believed doing a quad twist on sprung floor was completely impossible… until we realized it wasn’t. Oopse.
So how did Roger Bannister do it?
I mean you can’t train to do a mile in under 4 minutes without actually doing it physically. Therefore physical training alone wasn’t going to cut it. However, Roger realized that he can visualize himself running it, and make it so convincing that eventually his body will carry him through.
And so that’s what he did. When his mind believed, his body followed. Always remember this: The only limits that exist in your mind, are the ones you place inside it.
Powerful stuff. And incase you haven’t realized it yet, Act It Out is also a useful tool that can help you develop skills you don’t have yet. For example, if you’re working towards a double twist, act it out and really think about how it would feel to twist for a second time.
“surround yourself with success and eventually, you’ll have no choice but to live up to the standard set by your environment” (Tweet this)
Method 3: Beat Around The Bush
For the younger ones reading this, “beating around the bush” is phrase used to describe someone who avoids coming to the point and delays approaching a subject directly.
So now you might be wondering, “Hey coach, how does avoiding the mental block, actually help me get past my mental block?!”
Well as I stated before, a mental block works in mysterious ways, so taking a break from the skill that’s giving you problems can actually be beneficial. Remember, tumbling can go backwards and forwards. It can be done on a Tumble Trak or Air Track. Finally, skills can be individually worked on a trampoline too; you have tonnes of options.
Allow me to give you a personal example
Once upon a time (when I was a young and foolish), I had a mental block on my double twist. It’s the same block I encountered on my full twist so I decided to use the exact same tactic that worked previously – literally powering through it. I knew my body knew how to full, so I gave myself zero choice while coming out of the back hand spring. I trusted that as soon as I threw the set, my body would know how to double.
However, the same thing didn’t work; I did a one and a half and ate mat. Not just once, but over and over again. Clearly, I needed a different approach.
Due to sheer frustration, I just stopped doing the double and worked on something else that was similar in nature – the Rudy. For those that don’t know, a Rudy is a front layout with a 1.5 twist. The beauty of this skill is that you land facing the way you came, so it can be connected to whips and handsprings.
I didn’t think about this as a “technique” at the time; I just spent a few weeks on the Rudy and my 1.5 twist became so tight and fast that when I finally decided to go back to my double twist, it came back as if I had never lost it. It was literally magic.
You might want to try something similar. And if the skill that’s giving you trouble has no similar substitute, don’t worry, the point is to ENJOY working on something else for a while. As long as you’re doing something that requires you to go upside down, you’re doing it right.
Method 4: Do Something Else You’re Good At
This is a great method to combine with number three. While you’re working other skills, it’s important you do other activities that you’re good at. What this does is boost your confidence.
Why is this important?
Well despite what you may think, confidence, self esteem and generally feeling good about yourself spills over in all other areas of your life, and if your mental block was triggered due to a confidence related issue, this could be the invaluable key that opens the lock.
So tell me, what else are you good at?
It doesn’t matter, as long as it makes you feel accomplished and you feel good doing it – that is the key. Don’t do anything that frustrates you, otherwise you’re not doing yourself any favors.
“The only limits that exist in your mind, are the ones you place inside it.” (Tweet this)
Method 5: Just Staaph!
Yup, just stop completely and take a week off. Sometimes stepping away lets your body recover not only physically, but mentally as well. In powerlifting, this method is actually very common; many powerlifters train with extreme intensity while dieting hard to make weight. However, about 5-7 days before the competition, lifters usually stop training and take a chill pill.
Most people think that someone who is going to be lifting hundreds of pounds in front of people should keep training, but that is actually counter productive since it’s not just your muscles that need to recover, but your nervous system and mentality as well.
I personally attained a National Deadlift Record in May 2012 and I took 4 full days off before my meet. I had already made weight so I literally sat on the couch, read books and relaxed. Come competition day, I was so well rested and mentally clear that I crushed it when it counted. Had I been in the gym constantly pounding the weights, I probably would have been too weak to perform at my best.
Sometimes taking a step back is just what you need, so that you can two steps forward later.
Try it, you won’t be disappointed.