Mental blocks. Ugh. This was the word of my life. I was a gymnast from the age of 6 to the age of 21/22. I loved it and spent more hours at the gym than I did at my home.
But it wasn’t easy for me. Early on in my career, I developed some major mental blocks, which can be completely debilitating for a gymnast. I started by working back handspring layouts on beam, then began struggling with just the back handspring. I would like to say I got over it and progressed on, but just the opposite happened. Year after year, my mental blocks got worse, to the point where at the end of my career I wouldn’t even throw a plain backhandspring on floor, which is something I had done since elementary school.
These blocks are not something that can be easily explained. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do it. I wanted it probably more than anyone else. My body would physically not do it. I would visualize it, I would tell myself with 100 percent confidence I was going to do it, in fact I knew I could do the skills almost perfectly…yet my body wouldn’t budge. Each time, it was if somebody were grabbing me and actually preventing the skill.
These mental blocks were one of the hardest things I ever had to deal with in my life. When you want something so bad…yet can’t seem to do it no matter what…the disappointment you know coaches feel is nowhere near the disappointment you have in yourself. It actually progressed to a point where I would physically want to hurt myself as I stood on a beam attempting to perform a backward skill (I don’t think I ever told anyone this). I would wrap my hands around my neck and dig my fingernails in as hard as I could. I would squeeze my thighs until I was close to drawing blood. I somehow thought if I could punish myself enough…cause myself enough pain, I could surpass these mental blocks.
My coaches and parents tried everything. Drills, mats, spot, no spot, threats of not competing, specific music tapes and visualization exercises, journaling…I even went to a hypnotist/meditation specialist as a child!! This is how severe these mental blocks were and how devastating they were to me.
I have to give props to my parents and coaches. Everytime I wanted to quit because of the frustration of fears, my parents said, “You can quit if you don’t like gymnastics. But don’t quit because of a fear.” My coaches worked year after year with a gymnast that could do a tumbling pass perfectly, then couldn’t throw without spot for 3 weeks straight. They worked around it…somehow got me through level 9 despite my mental blocks, and focused my skills on front tumbling, side aerials on beam, and going all out with my dance skills. Because they wouldn’t let me quit over my fears, I was able to go on and be part of a division I gymnastics team in college.
Gymnastics was an amazing experience. It was worth all the tears. Now here is the challenge.
I see my daughter doing the same thing. She has the exact same mental blocks I did. How is this possible? Why is it some gymnasts can throw any skill without fear, and that most gymnasts master a skill then have it for life? Are some fears and mental blocks passed down genetically? I would love to study the pshychology behind fears and mental blocks. It wasn’t just gymnastics I’ve had mental blocks with. Communication has always been a mental block for me. Though I drastically have improved, my entire life I have wanted to say things that physically would not come out of my mouth..difficulty speaking has always been a weird, huge mental block for me.
Is it worth it? Is it worth seeing my daughter go through this, hoping that she can overcome it, but knowing mine only got worse? Knowing I got to the point I would physically make myself bleed? I seriously look back now and wouldn’t change anything for the world. My life as a gymnast gave me so much, it taught me so much. Yet it’s different when you are a parent. The fact that thinking about this still makes me cry is a strong indicator that these mental blocks affected me more than I like to admit.
I wish I had answers. I wish I could explain why this happens. Why despite every possible effort, you can’t control your body. I am big on mental training, mindset growth and how much your mind has the power to control. So it frustrates me still that I never could overcome those mental blocks. And it frustrates me more that I don’t know the best way to help my daughter through them.