Can mental blocks develop from a certain coaching style?

[Edited transcript below]

Can mental blocks develop from your training environment or a certain coaching style?

So this is a really good question, because one of the natural approaches when a mental block begins to happen is to make changes to the athlete’s environment. They think, “Maybe we should try a different gym. Maybe we should try a different coach. Maybe we should change class times or whatever the case may be.”

The short answer is yes! Mental blocks can absolutely develop from your training environment or a certain coaching style. 

A true mental block happens when an athlete who has mastered a skill has a build up of debilitating pressure and fear. And so if you are connecting, “Okay, when I do my back handspring, if it’s not perfect, I’m going to get yelled at or my coach is going to make me condition or I’m going to get kicked out of the gym” then that skill will be surrounded by pressure. 

The athlete / coach relationship

Kids and teens have a natural desire to make their coaches proud. They look up to them as leaders, mentors, and authority figures. They want coaches to respect them. They want them to like them. They don’t want to disappoint them or make them mad. The same thing goes for their parents. 

And so when there’s a lot of harshness, threats or it’s a challenging environment, then that absolutely can make mental blocks worse and it can cause them to happen. If it’s just a one time occurrence, then it’s not necessarily going to cause them to attach that negative meaning to that skill, but over time, that can definitely can happen.

When an athlete is so focused on protecting the feelings or emotions of their coach, it puts them in a tough position where they have no control over their own confidence. 

Is there anything coaches can do to help prevent mental blocks or fears in their athletes?

Coaches have an incredible impact on the lives of their athletes that should not be taken lightly. The #1 thing to avoid is yelling and threatening. Remember, these are kids that are at the gym to perform the sport that they love. They are not there to make the coach’s life perfect or job easy. 

As a coach, you have expectations for your team. You walk in and expect everybody to throw all the skills that you choreographed. You also expect everybody to do everything that they tried out with, plus more. The minute an athlete masters a new skill, it’s like, “Great, awesome. Next!” Right? That’s the nature of the cheer and gymnastics environment these days. 

There’s so much pressure and a lot of it is pressure on the coaches because they have to compete at the top, top levels. Teams are scored not only on difficulty, but cleanliness as well. So you have to do a really good job. You get deductions if you make errors. So there’s a lot of pressure on coaches. 

As a coach, it’s really important to understand that just because you have pressure and expectations on you, does not mean that your athletes are responsible to meet those expectations.

Clear communication is key. Be as open and honest with your athletes as possible making them feel seen, understood, and valued. 

Roles and responsibilities of coaches and athletes

Your athlete is not responsible to you for throwing all of their skills perfectly every time. When they are dealing with a mental block, that is not them purposely trying to be lazy or trying to make your job difficult. That is them dealing with a challenge that they need to work through. And you need to have patience and be willing to adjust your timeline and your expectations based on what your athletes need.

Coaches are responsible for making decisions that are best for the team. Athletes are responsible to show up and focus on the things that help them perform their best because that is what is best for their coach and team. Worrying about upsetting their coach is only going to distract them and hold them back. Coaches can help athletes release the pressure by explaining that their decisions are not due to athletes not being good enough. 

At the end of the day, the coaches are there for the athletes, not the other way around. With all the pressure that’s forced on everybody in the cheer and gymnastics community,  that sometimes gets a little lost. 

That's it! Now it's your turn.

Decide right now one way that you will use what you learned in this training to try something new this week at practice. What did you learn in this training that stood out to you? What will you do differently at practice this week to apply what you learned? I would love to support you and offer you a little accountability, so share that with us in the comments below. 

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Until next time, remember that a mental block is simply a challenge you are working through. You are strong, can do hard things, and have totally got this!

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