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Secrets to Control Your Fear and Become the Ideal Gymnast
Understanding the fear within your mind
Most competitive gymnasts and many developmental gymnasts will tell you that the biggest obstacle they face in gymnastics is fear. They have done all the drills and strength training they need to master a skill, but when told by their coach that it's time to do it without a spotter, they lock up and turn into a fear machine that shuts down their ability to attempt the skill. This is a familiar scenario for our sport. Our bodies are ready but our mind is not. What happens when our minds take over?
I have heard it said that gymnastics is 10% physical and 90% mental. This seems to ring true in many gymnasts. A gymnast can logically think through a skill and know they can accomplish it, but in their mind they focus on all the things that can go wrong. This mindset completely shuts down the gymnast's ability to make themselves "go for it." It's like a crazy little monkey running around in your head keeping your focus on the negative.
Controlling the monkey in your mind
So the monkey is running around an athlete's head focusing on all the negative, and keeping them from attempting a skill that they have trained and prepared for. They are completely capable of doing the skill, but are unable to get the monkey to shut up long enough to actually make the initial attempt. There is only one thing to do; give that monkey a banana so that the negative voices will cease. The question is, how do we do that?
Finding the banana
Mental choreography, or "MC" is the only way to control the monkey in your head. By forcing your brain to visualize yourself performing the skill, and then repeating keywords or phrases in your head to help you stay focused on what you are capable of doing, then the monkey stays under control, and your body is able to respond and perform. For instance, if you are performing a back handspring on the balance beam, you might catch your monkey telling you "I'm scared. What if I miss my hands?" By using your mental choreography, you can visualize the skill making your hands on the beam and repeat phrases like, "I got this. It's easy and I'm prepared." Then you take a breath open your eyes and say "GO!" That "GO" will be your cue for your body to respond. If you are focusing on these visualization exercises and cue words then your mind (or monkey) doesn't have time focus on being afraid.
Visualize and act on your thoughts
No matter what skill you are facing, your mind is the first part of successful mastery. Any hesitation on the part of a gymnast is simply a lack of focus on what has to be done. Many of us have been in a minor automobile accident, but most of us don't think twice about getting into a car to go somewhere because we are focusing on where we want to go or be. We don't think to ourselves, "I had better not get in the car because I might get into an accident." We simply focus on our destination and drive. The same holds true for a gymnast who is mastering a new skill. They can't focus on what might happen, but instead focus on their confidence and what they must do to get where they want to be. Mental training should always be practiced during workouts, and visualization is a great way to practice skills at home without even needing gymnastics equipment . Seeing it in your head is the first and foremost step to success.