Mental blocks in cheerleading can be one of the most challenging and frustrating obstacles for both the athlete and the coach. Contrary to belief, a mental block is not a rookie mistake. It's something that even the most highly trained athletes in the world can go through unexpectedly. A mental block can stem from various causes, including fear of injury, lack of progression, fatigue, distraction, and external stress. After reading this article, you should understand what a mental block is, what causes a mental block, ways to prevent a mental block, and finally, how to overcome a mental block.
What is a mental block?
A mental block in cheerleading refers to a psychological barrier or obstacle that prevents an individual from performing at their best. Mental blocks can manifest in the form of fear, self-doubt, lack of understanding, negative thoughts, or performance anxiety. A mental block can prevent an athlete from executing their routine with confidence and accuracy, hindering their performance and overall success in the sport. While many people believe mental blocks only occur in tumbling, it's a problem that can and does spread into every aspect of cheerleading.
Signs of a Mental block
It's essential to understand and know when you or an athlete is showing signs of building a mental block so you can attack the problem before it gets any worse. Signs of a mental block are:
- The inability for an athlete to commit to a skill they have done previously with no problem.
- Not committing to technique
- Feeling frozen, blank, or having brain fog
- Lack of confidence
- Performance anxiety
- Lack of trust in oneself
Causes of a Mental block
Fear of Injury: One common cause of mental blocks in cheerleading is fear of injury. This can be especially prevalent in young athletes who have learned quickly with no fear but have since suffered an injury that has made them cautious. In these cases, it's essential to focus on conditioning specific areas of the body to build strength and reduce the fear of injury. By mastering each step of a skill before moving on to the next, coaches can also create consistency and reduce the risk of injury.
Lack of Progression: The most common cause of mental blocks is a lack of progression in the athlete's skills. In cheerleading, it's important to master each step of a skill before moving on to the next. If the athlete is not progressing and feels inconsistent in their performance, this can lead to fear, nervousness, and ultimately a mental block.
Fatigue and Distraction: Fatigue and distraction can also contribute to mental blocks in cheerleading. If an athlete is forced to do one more repetition when already fatigued, this can lead to losing focus and confidence. Similarly, easily distracted athletes may benefit from learning techniques for focusing their mind and improving their concentration.
External Stress: External stress from sources such as school, family conflict, or outside pressures can also contribute to mental blocks in cheerleading. When an athlete feels overwhelmed and stressed, performing to their full potential can be difficult. Coaches should be aware of external stressors and work with athletes to develop strategies for managing stress and reducing its impact on their performance.
Preventing a mental block
The best defense against mental blocks is fostering a positive mindset and maintaining a healthy relationship with the sport. Consider the following strategies:
- Set achievable goals: Establishing realistic expectations for yourself and your performance helps you focus on progress, reducing the risk of frustration or disappointment. Some athletes fear setting goals because it provides the opportunity to fail. However, without a goal, an athlete has no direction or sense of progression or digression. An unreachable goal doesn't motivate an athlete as well as a goal that's easily completed. It must be right in between, challenging but attainable.
- Stay optimistic: Maintaining a positive outlook keeps you motivated and focused on your objectives. Seek out supportive people who encourage and believe in you. A negative mindset only pushes you and others around you down.
- Visualize success: Imagining yourself effortlessly executing a skill or routine can build confidence and conquer fear. When visualizing focus on the moment completely and fully. How did the tumbling pass feel, what environment are you in, what are you focused on in the skill. Your brain doesn't know the difference between a mental rep and a physical rep so believe it and you will achieve it.
- Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical and mental well-being optimizes performance and minimizes the risk of mental blocks. Ensure you eat a balanced diet, get adequate sleep, and engage in physical activity to stay in top form.
Conquering Mental Blocks
Despite the best prevention efforts, mental blocks may still occur. In these cases, it's crucial to have a plan for overcoming them. Here are a few tips and tricks to help:
- Identify the cause: Understanding the source of your mental block enables you to address it more effectively. Ask yourself what thoughts or beliefs are holding you back and take steps to change them. Allowing yourself to be transparent with yourself is a big step and easily one of the most important when it comes to getting past a block. You can only know where you are going if you first know where you are.
- Seek support: Talking to a coach, mentor, or therapist can help you overcome your mental block. They provide guidance and support to help you conquer your obstacles.
- Use positive self-talk: Replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations keeps you motivated and confident. Focus on your strengths and remember past successes. Now positive self-talk isn't lying to yourself or a teammate. It's an understanding of the situation as well as accepting that progress isn't linear. It's going to take failing and succeeding a couple times to get past it, but the effort you put in is the only thing that matters. If you are trying, never talk down about yourself because that's all any of us can ever do.
- Take Action: The most effective way to overcome a mental block is to take action. Start with simple skills or routines and gradually build up to more challenging ones. It's easy to escape the mental block by working on different skills or finding ways to push it off but that only delays the process you will have to go through. Most of the time this makes it harder and harder to break out of a mental block.
The Bottom-Line is that mental blocks are a common challenge in cheerleading and tumbling, but they don't have to stand in your way. By preventing mental blocks and having a plan for overcoming them, you can remain focused, motivated, and confident as you pursue your athletic aspirations. Remember, every athlete experiences mental blocks, but with the right mindset and approach, they can be conquered and conquered with ease.