It’s that time of year again… Back to School! Summer practices are coming to an end, and our gymnasts are going to have to readjust to those long days of juggling gymnastics and school. These gymnasts have a lot on their plate, and often times we can see this transition negatively affect their gymnastics.
So how can we help our gymnasts through this transition?
Step One: Understand the Problem
During this transition, or various other transitions, the problem is rarely a physical one. The gymnast does not suddenly become less capable of doing her skills. The physical capability is still there, and the muscle memory is still there as well. It is the ability to access that muscle memory and other mental factors that start to creep in during times of change, stress, or fatigue.
I explain to my athletes in the Gymnast Mindset program that their brains are like their smartphones.
What happens to your smartphone if you are on it all day – switching between Instagram, texting, taking pictures, etc? The battery doesn’t make it through the day, right? When their phone goes into low power mode, you don’t have access to all of the same features. You can’t use bluetooth, your screen might shut down quicker, and other inconveniences. Then if it gets to the point where the battery dies completely – it just blacks out. You can’t use it at all until you recharge it!
Our brain batteries also go into low power mode or even shutdown when we’ve been using it too much!
I’ve had gymnasts explain to me that they don’t know what happens… all of a sudden they just black out. They don’t seem to have control over anything anymore. They can’t go for skills, or they feel like they have forgotten everything that they once knew.
And what’s happening there is that they are simply out of brain energy. It’s not that they lost that skill. It’s that their brain is tired.
We don’t give our brains enough credit.
A gymnast’s brain communicates with their body in incredible ways without them having to actively think about it all that much. The brain tells the body exactly what to do to pull off incredible skills! And when it doesn’t feel like it has enough energy left to get you through that skill safely, it shuts down. It puts out warning signals and wants you to believe that this skill is dangerous. You know on a rational level that you have trained for this skill and can do it safely, but your brain can’t accept that until it’s recharged a bit.
And it’s important that we acknowledge how much our athletes are doing throughout the day before they even step foot in the gym!
These gymnasts go to school, and often take advanced classes! They are navigating social situations that can be escalated in a moment’s notice thanks to social media, and they may have family dynamics that could be causing some stress. They have busy schedules with a lot of responsibility, and all of these small things drain that brain battery.
Step 2: Conserve Brain Energy
So now that we understand why our gymnasts are struggling, how can we help them? We can’t simply say that they don’t have to go to school anymore, or they aren’t allowed to have friends. We need to help them figure out how to manage their mindset throughout these stressors.
Giving our gymnasts tools to stay calm on a daily basis can go a long way.
How often do our gymnasts worry about things that are out of control in that moment? They worry about practice while they’re at school, and they worry about school while they’re at practice.
Stay in the present moment. Keep your thoughts calm. Make the most of your time while you’re here.
Another key to conserving mental energy is to stay as mentally neutral as possible.
Gymnasts often fight with themselves in their head. Their thoughts go negative, and they try to snap themselves out of it. They try to pump themselves up instead. They think that doing that 180 is going to be helpful, but in reality… they are tiring out their brains.
It is exhausting to argue with yourself and overthink and worry!
And when the brain is tired, the gymnast can’t just let their body do what it knows how to do. They can’t just perform their routines the way they’ve practiced a million times. The brain isn’t supporting that high level of muscle memory when it’s in low power mode.
So when our gymnasts notice themselves starting to spiral and starting to argue with themselves, we want them to interrupt that thought process.
We want them to have a cue (like yelling, “Stop that!” in their own head) to interrupt the thought process, and then work on staying at neutral. Once they’re at neutral (they have that quiet place in their head), they can start moving in a more positive direction. But this is going to have to be very purposeful at first, until it starts to become more of a habit.
Step 3: Recharge those Batteries
There are various ways that we can help gymnasts conserve mental energy throughout the day. I have a few of those examples above, but there are many other specific strategies that we dive into throughout the Gymnast Mindset program. However, despite those strategies, your brain still only has so much capacity, which means that our gymnasts also need to know how to recharge!
Even if you don’t use your smartphone at all, the battery will eventually die. It will eventually need plugged in. We can’t expect our brain to function at 100% if we never give it any downtime.
As high level athletes, our gymnasts are very busy with a lot on their plates! There are high level classes at school with plenty of homework and studying to go along with them; and there are a lot of demands with the sport as well. Finding time to recharge might feel next to impossible, but the good news is that even a few minutes of relaxation can go a long way!
Have your gymnasts analyze their daily and weekly schedules. How can they be more purposeful with your time? What will allow them to recharge for the rest of the day? What do they enjoy doing? What feels restful and restorative? How can they squeeze in 5 minutes of that a few times throughout their day?
No one is saying that you need a whole spa day to rest and recharge, but you do need to spend a little time each day recharging to be able to perform your best!
Step 4: Practice It
As with most things, we can’t just read or learn these things – we have to implement them on a consistent basis. We have to turn these strategies into habits for them to start making a difference. And once we stop paying attention to these issues, and let things go, they start to creep back in!
Just like you have your gymnasts work on technique, flexibility, and strength on a regular basis; they need to be working on their mindset in the same strategic way.
When we do this, then our gymnasts will start to understand that they are truly in control. They control their attitude. They control their effort. They control their determination. They control their mindset.
Giving our gymnasts the tools and strategies that help them better understand themselves, the process, and how to get where they want to go; then we will build not only incredible gymnasts, but incredible people!
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