Overcome Fear

Overcoming Fear in Gymnastics

Traditional Long-Term Solution

Everyone who coaches either gymnastics or cheerleading has encountered fear problems with skills like back handsprings or round-off back handsprings. It is not at all uncommon at all for a coach to have to provide extra help for a gymnast who had a bad fall and is now having psychological trouble tumbling.

Try to Identify the Source of the Fear

It is helpful in dealing in this situation to have as much information about what likely is the cause of the fear. Information about what skill she fell on, what skills she is having trouble with (e.g. standing back handspring or round-off back handspring), what her highest level of tumbling is/was and what tumbling skills she can still do.

There May Be Multiple Causes

It is also possible for fear to originate from having seen another gymnast fall, either on the skill of which they are afraid, but also possibly on some completely unrelated skill. Complicating the situation can be a human’s innate fear of falling backwards. There can be a variety of causes or even a combination of causes.

Falls Can Equal Fear

Obviously a fall, especially a bad fall doing the skill can cause a fear problem. The fear can also come from seeing someone else fall either on the same skill or even another skill.

Gymnasts Can Become More Aware

Sometimes when athletes figure out that they are not “immortal” and that they could get injured, this can be the cause. Fear resulting just from gymnasts realizing they are not invincible and are capable of getting hurt often occurs around puberty. All of these causes are psychological in nature and are in essence often best solved with a mental training solution.

The Fear Can Spread

The fear of and lack of confidence in a single tumbling skill can spread and start to affect other skills, both tumbling and other events as well. It is best to start dealing with the fear problem as soon as possible to avoid an even more major deterioration of skills.

Back Up in the Progressions and Spot

Traditionally, good coaches have just backed up in the teaching progression and re-taught the skill to try to deal with the fear problem. Often, gymnasts want to be spotted for quite some time before they regain their confidence enough to do the skill by themselves.

Fear is Not Time Manageable

In the middle of a competition season, fear is a difficult problem to deal with, because more pressure to perform most often results in even more lack of confidence and an even slower solution to the problem. The time it takes to overcome fear is frustrating to both coach and athlete.

Review Basics

Sometimes gymnasts have not been reviewing their basics (like good round-off technique) and their skills have developed one or more bad habits that actually do make their performing round-off back handsprings something they should worry about. In this case, only actual physical correction of the errors will truly work. For this the solution is a coaching review and correction of the technical problems with the skill.

Mental Skill Practice

Another effective method is careful mental practice of the skill(s). Mental practice can be beneficial, if and only if, it is positive – meaning that the cheerleaders only imagine themselves doing the skill perfectly without falls or interference from fear.

Set and Setting

Mental practice should include both set and setting – at the gym and at the competition with the entire environment being imagined with the skill. Make sure your gymnast knows that scientific research has shown that perfect mental practice is more effective than physical practice because there are no errors ever made.

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