Dear Athlete, You are not broken (A letter about mental blocks)

Are you or a loved one dealing with a mental block in your sport? Then you likely have untrue beliefs about who you are and why this is happening. I recently sat down to dig through hundreds of potential client forms and saw repeated comments from athletes that broke my heart. Comments like:

“I am afraid I am not good enough.”
“I feel defeated, ashamed, and think I should just give up.”
“I worry about what others will think of me.”
“I feel like I am failing and want to fix the problem, but I don’t know how.”
“I am afraid to fail and don’t want to disappoint my dad, coach, and teammates.” 
“I physically work and work, private after private, but cannot shake it. I get my skill back out of the blue for a few days and creep back into a block again.” 

The theme is frustration and helplessness that spills over into their life outside of their sport, but it doesn’t have to be. Today, I am sharing my perspective on mental blocks developed from my experience over the past two decades as a competitive athlete, skills coach, and Mental Performance Coach who specializes in overcoming blocks. By reading this post, you will gain a better understanding of mental blocks and how they affect you, plus plenty of encouragement to push you forward confidently.

7 Truths For Athletes Dealing With Mental Blocks

Dear Athlete,

Truth #1. You are not broken.

If you are dealing with a mental block, you have probably thought something like, “I just wish I could fix it and get my skills back.” It may feel like something is wrong with you and a sign of weakness or a result of not being good enough. But here is the thing, you are not broken! You are experiencing a challenge which is a part of every life pursuit worth chasing. One thing I know about you is that you are exceptional. I know this because, unfortunately, mental blocks usually affect the most gifted athletes. Likely, you achieved success early and have thrived in your sport. Words like coachable, beautiful tumbler, and naturally talented have been used to describe you, and they are true. A mental block is simply a challenge you are working through, and that is okay. 

Truth #2. It is not your fault.

Mental blocks do not simply come and go, even though it seems like it. Blocks happen as an accumulation of fear from how your brain processes what is happening around you. Sometimes, this can happen quickly due to a severe fall or injury where your body loses its ability to feel safe. More often, a block is the result of perfectionist tendencies which in the past had served you well. As you reached more advanced levels of performance, your brain stayed in the training mindset, which caused a disconnect in your trust. Over time your attention shifted away from the thrill of getting new skills and doing what works to a focus on negative “what ifs,” keeping up with teammates, avoiding mistakes, overcontrolling your skills for competition, and fear of disappointing others. This block is a sign that your body is doing exactly what it was designed to do, keep you safe. All you need to overcome this challenge is to retrain your brain to what is safe for you by shifting your focus.

Truth #3. Your parents love you no matter how you perform.

“My parents have spent so much time and money on me, and I don’t want to let them down.” Sound familiar? Maybe in the past, your parents have tried encouraging you by offering treats for getting skills. If that didn’t work, your parents may have even said they would take something away like private lessons or the sport altogether for not doing your skills or because they cannot take seeing the heartache on your face every time you leave practice disappointed. Even anticipating the well-intentioned “How was practice?” is enough to add an extra layer of pressure at practice when things are not going well. But here is the thing, your parents love you no matter how you perform. You are 100% loved and enough for simply breathing in this moment. When you feel pressure to make your parents proud or avoid anger or disappointment, choose to hear, “I love you, believe in you, and only want what is best for you .” This reminder will help you shift away from block-fueling pressure and towards confidence.

Truth #4. Your coach believes in you and is there to support you

“You should have this,” “Just throw it!”, “I am not spotting you anymore. You can do it!” If you have experienced a block, you know how devastating simple phrases like this can feel. Between tryouts and competition season, it can feel like you are constantly in jeopardy of losing or not making your spot because of a mental block. You carry so much pressure to keep your coaches happy and prove yourself. Their opinion becomes the priority as you place your confidence in their hands, leaving you feeling helpless and frustrated. Here is the thing, you are not responsible for your coach’s expectations, feelings, or happiness. When you feel pressure to do your skills because of a comment or look from your coach, you can choose to hear, “My decisions are not a direct reflection of your ability. I believe in you and am here to support you.” Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, your coach understands that challenges happen and often create the most successful athletes because you will be stronger for having gone through it.

Truth #5. This block does not define you.

Think about the number of times you have said “my mental block”… was it ever used in a positive, encouraging way, or was it more like, “I can’t do it because of my mental block” or “I used to have the skill before I got my mental block”? By using the team MY, you are taking ownership of it which causes us to want to protect and keep it close. I think of it as a monster on a leash casting a shadow with every step we try to take. A mental block in a back handspring becomes “I am a bad tumbler,” which quickly turns to I am a lousy cheerleader and eventually, “I am not good enough (as a person).” This challenge does not have to define you. There are so many amazing things you are and do every single day that has nothing to do with your sport.

Truth #6. You are strong and can do hard things.

Mental blocks cause you to focus on the mistakes and things not going your way instead of on everything you are doing well. As you work to improve your challenging skills, lean into your strengths in other areas. Never allow yourself to be held back from competing, trying out, or going for that big goal because of a challenge in one area because your sport and you are so much more than that. Be someone willing to accept a challenge as an opportunity to become an even better version of yourself, and you will reach levels of success that would not have been possible without this block. Perseverance and courage are life skills you are strengthening that will serve you well long after your days as an athlete are finished. Remember, you are strong and can do hard things. 

Truth #7. You are not alone (We see you).

You are not lazy or trying to get attention. You are brave and unwilling to give up on yourself and the sport you love. You are allowed to have a challenge and full permission to work through it on your own timeline. Fear will be a part of the process, but that is not a sign that something bad will happen. It is proof that you are doing something big and simply need to pay attention. Take a deep breath and choose to move forward step by step. After all, this is for you, not anyone else, even though sometimes it feels that way. Use practice for just that, time to practice and work on your physical and mental skills like confidence and trust in yourself. Pay special attention to progress and celebrate every success, big and small. Just know you are not alone. The MPC coaches and our private community of block-breaker athletes are here, fully aware of what you are going through and cheering you along every step. 

You’ve got this! Now that you have the 7 Truths For Athletes Dealing With Mental Blocks, you can regain your belief in yourself and begin on the path toward a more confident, joyful you. We want to support you by helping you remember these truths daily, so we have created a free download for you. Click here to download and print your reminder card, then display it somewhere you will see it every day, like your bathroom mirror, locker, car, or gym bag. Please take a picture of your posted reminder and share it with us @mandypattersoncoaching. 

If you are dealing with a mental block or just fears and anxiety related to tryouts or the upcoming competition season, I would love the opportunity to support you. Now is the time to start working on your mental game so you can be ready to tryout with confidence!

As a Mental Performance Coach, I help athletes turn anxiety and fears into confidence and joy. Through 1-on-1 private coaching, learning content, and application guides I teach athletes how to master their mindset so they can achieve their biggest goals.

If you want to learn more and see if Mental Coaching is right for you, I invite you to schedule a 30-minute no-cost Performance Check Session. 

Click Here to sign up. Spots are offered on a limited basis so reserve yours today!

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