Overcoming Mental Blocks In Cheerleading: Kendall’s journey from panic attacks to fulls

[Edited transcript below]

Introducing our Block-Breaker of the Month, Kendall

“Miss Kendall, why don’t you just tell me a little bit about yourself?”

So I am eleven. I am turning twelve next week. I’ve had a lot of problems with sports in general, but just knowing that I pushed through it feels great.

“And we’re going to talk a lot about pushing through challenges today because you’re a rock star with pushing through challenges. So we’re going to dig into all of that today. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your sports background specifically? What sport do you play? How long have you played it? Where do you do it at?”

I do cheer, and my sister used to do cheer, so I’ve done cheer since I was born. I made my first actual team at the age of six or five. I’ve done it for a long time, and it’s really personal to me.

Favorite Part of Cheerleading

“So, what’s your favorite part of cheer? What’s your favorite thing about cheerleading and being a cheerleader?”

Probably end of season comps. Just knowing that you put in so much hard work and now you get to celebrate and go to all the fun parks and stuff.

Challenges in Competition 

“There’s a lot of fun stuff. There’s also some challenges. I know with competition, there’s a lot of hard feelings and nerves. You’ve done a really good job pushing through all that. So I’d love to dig into that in just a little bit. Is that okay?”

Yeah.

Mental Coaching Before and After 

“Awesome. Well, why don’t you share with me, before mental coaching, you’re one of our Mind Over Mental Block athletes. I know a lot of athletes look at mental coaching as a quick fix or something they try after everything else hasn’t worked. Mental game is an essential part of success in cheer. You and your parents see the value in being strong mentally for cheer. It’s not just good for when you’re struggling but good to have consistent work on your mindset and mental game so you stay mentally tough and keep your confidence high all year round, right?”

Yeah.

Biggest Challenges Before Mental Coaching

“I love that. Well, before mental coaching, what were some of your biggest challenges? Give people a sneak peek at what we were dealing with when you started with us.”

My mental block started when I was on a level two team. I forced myself to throw my skills because I was scared to get yelled at. When I made a level three team, it really started to show, and it got bad. I would only do skills with a pause, and there was a point where I wouldn’t even throw a tuck or a standing tuck. Then I got better, and I started working on my full and stuff, and I was doing really good. Then I made a level four, and everything came crashing down. I wouldn’t even throw my back handspring. I’d only do back walkovers. Towards the end of that season, I started slowly throwing my back handsprings with a spot connected to a round-off. It slowly kept building up.

Initial Hesitations with Mental Coaching

“So, mental coaching. I would love to hear you’re not going to hurt my feelings, but for a lot of people, when they first come across it, it’s like, what is this? I’ve never heard of it before. It seems kind of crazy. So I would love to hear, what were some of your hesitations or what did you think the very first time we talked?”

We kept trying to find other counselors, but they weren’t really about sports. So when my dad found you, I was terrified.

Fear of Talking to New People

“Tell me how you really feel, Kendall. What were you terrified of?”

I’m a really shy person, and I hate talking and meeting new people.

Comfort Level Over Time

“So then you started meeting with Coach Mo, who’s awesome, by the way. Did it get more comfortable for you after you got started?”

It got a little more comfortable. I was still hesitant at first and just listened and watched through all the things she put on the screen. The only things I would say were yes, no.

Working Through Discomfort

“But you worked through it, and then what happened? What shifted for you as you kept working the program?”

I could tell she was trying to figure it out, so she kept asking more questions about it. That started to open my shell, and I got a bit more comfortable.

Feedback and Mental Coaching

“With mental coaching, we’re trying to get you to create your own thoughts and feelings about things. It’s different because we’re curious about what’s going on in your head. At first, it takes a little adjusting when you’re not used to it. What’s been possible for you going from not consistent in your skills, lots of fear, lots of challenges, to now? Tell me a little bit about what’s changed.”

Using mental cues and setting weekly goals have been really helpful. Taking tiny steps at a time really helps. I have a coach who knows what we’re working on and slightly pushes me out of my comfort zone without forcing me.

Advice for Athletes with Similar Challenges

“What would you say to others who have had challenges in the past like you and maybe are back in that place, or they started to make progress, but they feel like they’re not going fast enough?”

In that time period where I was forcing skills, I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing. I was just thinking, “Chuck it, do it.” But you need to start thinking to yourself, “I know I can do this. I have my training. My coach is right there. They believe in me. I have steps and techniques.” Taking baby steps helps.

Difference in Training Approach

“What’s different now compared to then? Because I’m sure in the past, you’ve tried drills and reps and private lessons. So what’s different now?”

Back then, I let my coach control what I was doing. It felt like someone was controlling me. Now, I think about it as my coach knowing I can do it. They believe in me. I need to believe in myself and take my steps to do it.

Feeling of Control and Confidence

“Before, it was pressure from your coach. Now, you feel ownership and control of your skills. That’s a big deal. How does it feel when you go to practice now compared to before?”

Now, if I don’t feel comfortable with something, I preview it in my head. If I still don’t feel confident, I ask a coach I trust to spot me. I speak up for what I need.

Accomplishments and New Skills

“So you’ve accomplished some big things over the last several months. What’s your biggest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?”

Probably going from being terrified of coaches and not wanting to go to practice to feeling comfortable and confident, knowing I can throw my level five skills.

Level Five Skills Achieved

“So what are you able to confidently throw today?”

Today, I can do anything back handsprings to layout. I can do jumps to tucks. I haven’t fully got my full yet, but I’m working on it. I threw my whip for the first time yesterday. I do my punch front step out, and everything I do is to a tuck or layout.

Taking a Break from Cheer

“I heard you were thinking of quitting cheer. How did taking a break help you?”

I was thinking of quitting cheer and looked into other sports like soccer and softball. I did cross country and track and field at school. It helped me see that my life isn’t just about cheer or school. It’s about everything else, too.

Trying New Things and Building Confidence

“Trying new things shows you what you’re capable of and helps you be proud of yourself. Does that help you with cheer?”

Yes, it shows I can learn new things. I’ve never run a hurdle in my life, and I ended up getting one of the better scores in 6th grade. It helps me see I can do anything.

Mental Game Tip

“What is one mental game tip you would give to someone listening to this?”

Trust the process, no matter how long it takes. When you push through and start to see progress, you get so proud of yourself. I never thought I’d get through levels one and two of the mental game program. It felt like school for a while, but it helped me gain new things and try new things.

Closing

“Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. You did such a good job.”

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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