Building Mental Toughness in Gymnastics
Do you fear failing at gymnastics competitions? Does the fear of failing cause you to under-perform?
Think of a gymnastics competition where you felt a lot of pressure… Expectations were high…
You thought, “What if I mess up… What will my coach say… what will my parents say?”
You thought of every possible negative outcome. You tried to “play it safe” and avoid mistakes during your routine…
Instead of fully committing to the routine, you were performing tight and the slight point deductions began to add up.
Fear is a very real thing in gymnastics: fear of failing, fear of getting injured, etc.
The most common fear in the sport of gymnastics is the fear of failing.
Often gymnasts fear how others will perceive them or how they will view themselves if they fail.
Everyone would admit that fear blocks us from optimal performance.
If you want to reach new heights in gymnastics, you need to counter fear. By growing your mental toughness, you can perform your best despite fear.
I interviewed Peak Performance consultant Alison Arnold in regards to fear and mental toughness.
Arnold has worked with USA Women’s Gymnastics, United States Figure Skating, and Australian Aerial Skiing.
Arnold has authored of several mental toughness training manuals including, “The Athlete Warrior: Advanced mental training for the advanced athlete.”
COHN: “How do you apply your method with working with athletes today?”
ARNOLD: “Teaching athletes to be able to be in the present. Usually all fear, all doubt, all second-guessing comes from past or future thinking, either thinking about something that happened or thinking about something that might happen.
A lot of what I learned helps keep athlete’s minds exactly where they want to be and that is in the present to be able to identify when their mind is getting out of control, or what I call ‘loose’ mind and be able to pull their mind back to what I call ‘tight mind’ or one point focus which is then in their zone feeling confident, feeling doubtless.”
COHN: “What are the qualities that make a gymnast mentally tough or mentally sound and do those athletes still need mental training?”
ARNOLD: “I don’t look at it as some athletes need it [mental training] and some don’t; I feel all athletes can benefit from mental training.
The athletes that are mentally tough, what they are able to do is turn their mind around faster… they have more emotional toughness; they don’t allow their emotions get out of control, so they are able to turn around bad days faster.
Mentally tough athletes get less attached to the day-to-day ups and downs; they trust that one bad event leads to a good one later.”
Try these tips to combat fear with mental toughness:
- Tip #1: Pursue excellence instead of perfection. By seeking excellence it can help you keep your emotions in check and respond positively after slight mistakes.
- Tip #2: Focus on what you want, not what you are afraid might happen. Imagine yourself performing your routine prior to competing and focus on your performance cues!