There are many different types of athletes – those who work hard and achieve their goals – and those who work hard and while they may be achieving goals, they never quite feel accomplished. One type of student who can get a mental block is a perfectionist. They tend to refuse to accept any standard short of perfection.
In cheer, tumbling and gymnastics the winning team or athlete is always the one who performs the most difficult routine or skills with the best technique and little to no error. Since these athletes are always striving to be perfect these sports can breed perfectionists. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best but for a lot of athletes this causes major issues with their confidence and self esteem. When we have unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we are often disappointed because we feel that we can never live up to those lofty goals.
Journaling to Reflect
Athletes who expect perfection at all times end up beating themselves up and they cause more harm than they help. To those athletes who are constantly critical of yourself, start journaling your feelings. Example: “Today I was unable to perform my back handspring and I feel frustrated and weak.”
I want you to take a look at what your wrote and ask the question, “Was that thought true?”
Are you actually weak or did you just have an off day and maybe you were being too hard on yourself.
I want you to also ask, “Was this thought helpful?”
Did saying those mean things to yourself help or did they only hurt you. When we are in control of our thoughts and how we assess our abilities we leave room for us to grow mentally and physically.
Identify with Your Child
Dealing with a mental block will cause a lot of frustration for you (the parent), the coach and the athlete, but what we need to realize that mental blocks can be treated. The parents’ main focus is to be supportive of your child and to not show your frustration; your frustration will only further upset the child putting an immense amount of pressure on the skill in question. You need to assure them that everyone struggles from time to time with things and that it is a natural. Ensure them that while struggling is difficult it will make them resilient when they come out on top of this situation. Give your child an example of a time you tried and failed, but eventually came out on top because of your hard work and effort.
Having an ability stripped away from you can be upsetting, but watching it happen to your athlete can be heartbreaking. Our job as coach and parent is not to take on the pain of the athlete but help them through their time of struggle. Mental blocks can happen for a multitude of reasons, but we should not focus on the why but rather the future and education of the issue.
I am a big proprietor of the phrase, “You don’t lose, you learn.” I had lots of issues with this growing up because I always wanted to be the best and never wanted to struggle for what I wanted; rather just work hard and that I would get a skill. This is not always the case and coach and parent need to let their athletes know this. Sometimes losing is the best way to learn, it might not be the way we want to educate ourselves, but it can be very effective. Take time to sit down and talk with your athlete about how they can better themselves and come out stronger with every loss. No one wants to lose, but losing is a part of life and we all need to understand that.