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3 Secrets to help your child overcome mental blocks in sport

We all know what it is like when our child comes back from training telling us that they can no longer do a move. It's a feeling that is heartbreaking for both of you.

At first, we think that it will be ok at the next training session but 6 weeks later we realise that this mental block is here to stay.

However, all is not lost though as there is a way out of this spiral.

Secret 1: Build the foundations

Sometimes we do not consolidate a move before advancing to the next level. I see it like building a house. If you don't get the foundations of the house right, you will have trouble when you start building up the bricks. You may not realise that the foundations aren't secure until well into the building process. It is then hard to rectify the error and in most cases, the builder has to knock it down and start again. Fortunately, you shouldn't have to do that. Get your child to go back a level or complete the move on an easier element (floor instead of the beam), consolidate the move before moving back up to the level in which the mental block is happening

Secret 2: Change the story

In many case, our children are thinking about "not thinking about the mental block" Close your eyes for a moment and don't think about chocolate!!! You are thinking about chocolate aren't you?

We need to shift the focus to what the goal is. (i.e. Land 'flick' on the beam) A great exercise for this is 'THE MAGIC TELEVISION' This is a great visualisation technique that you can do with your child.

Ask them to close their eyes and imagine they are watching gymnastics on the television. Encourage them to imagine the gymnasts performing the move that they are having a mental block on. Get them to see, hear and acknowledge how the gymnasts may be feeling. The next step is to let them imagine stepping into the television and overcoming their mental block. Again ask them to fully absorb themselves into the task and take in what they need to do to achieve the move. At the end, ask them to open their eyes and speak to them about the experience. This takes practice so needs to be done regularly.

Secret 3: Run along the butterflies 

Mental blocks are mainly a fear of failing or getting hurt. This anxiety is normal. It's our mind's way of saying "Be careful". It is also an indication that we care. Our children have not developed the skills to rationalise this fear at a higher order. Their mind is protecting them from feeling pain, whether it is emotional or physical. We are programmed to avoid pain and not seek pleasure so we get anxious because the risk of getting hurt is higher than the pleasure we will get when we achieve something. Are you still with me? 

Role play can help to understand what is going on. Have a game of hide and seek where your child is an explorer and you are a scary animal. Make it fun but the aim is to make your child jump and create 'butterflies' in their tummy. Most children can explain what 'butterflies' feel like.

Explain that butterflies can be positive as well. I suggest getting a journal for your child to write down their thoughts and feelings and decorate it with butterflies. When they experience butterflies in the future, ask them to imagine the butterflies as beautiful and relaxing. If you can take something with butterflies on to the gym, even better. Focusing on the butterflies when they are anxious can be used as a distraction.

Bonus Secret: Seeing the breath

Mindful breathing can help with relaxation and reducing anxiety and there are a number of different techniques to use. This one just needs a cotton wool ball

Sit with your child on the floor and ask them to place the cotton ball in their open palm. Get them to hold their cotton ball right under their nose. Encourage them to look at the ball carefully asking the following questions:

What do you see?

Ask them to breathe normally, through their nose.

Can you tell me from how the cotton ball is moving?

Are you are breathing in or breathing out or pausing with lungs full or empty.

Once they have mastered this exercise, they can progress to a 5-7 breathing technique where they breathe in through their nose for 5 seconds and out through their mouth for 7 seconds.

These exercises only take about 5 minutes but I recommend that they are done at least once a day.

These secrets will provide you with some techniques to help your child overcome their mental blockages. However, there are times when home intervention is not enough. This is where I come in.

I work differently to other sport psychologists as I believe that children need the support of their parents when it comes to mental skills training. What I do is start with a free parent strategy session via zoom to discuss the way forward. We will then follow a tailor-made programme together. When the time is right, we will introduce the gymnast and we will work together to overcome the blockages and put strategies in place in case the gremlins come back.

If you are interested in applying for a free parent strategy session, please Contact Me and we can arrange a time to chat

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