This is a lesson I learned from military trainers, both drill sergeants and individuals who trained special ops forces. In combat (gymnastics translation = most important competition), soldiers will revert to their base level of their repetitive, ingrained training. Combat is such an intense experience, that the conscious mind just checks out, and allows the subconscious mind to take over and the subconscious mind executes whatever training has been embedded. The conscious mind will do the same thing in accident situations, when fear is induced and if the body is quickly thrown off-balance.
Shawn Johnson Doesn’t Even Remember her Olympic Gold Medal Beam Routine
In an interview, Shawn Johnson said she can’t even remember anything from her 2008 Olympic Gold Medal winning beam routine, except for the mount and the landing of the dismount. Under the extreme pressure of Olympic competition, the subconscious mind, which controls all physical movement, took over complete control and acted upon the training it had received. In Shawn Johnson’s case, this was good and the successful implanted, habituated training produced an in-the-zone Olympic Gold Medal winning performance.
Coaching Directed to the Conscious Mind Will Fail Under Pressure
In stress situations, like hugely important meets, the idea that a gymnast is going to be able to think, focus and concentrate using their conscious mind is both an unlikely scenario and risky coaching advice. Coaching advice like “Think about what you are doing,” “Focus and concentrate on this” and “Remember not to do that” are totally useless, if and when the subconscious mind takes over and the gymnast falls to the base level of whatever has been repetitively trained.
Gymnasts and Coaches Cannot Control When the Subconscious Kicks In
The subconscious mind dominates the conscious mind, especially in times of stress, shock, surprise and extreme pressure (like at big meets). And the switch-over from conscious mind control to total subconscious control is itself not a conscious decision. It will happen automatically and instantly under pressure or stress. In somewhat less intense situation, the switch-over may come and go a number of times, with the conscious mind coming back online and then kicking out again. Regardless, the conscious mind will have no control over when it happens, and when it does happen, the subconscious will revert to the base level of training.
When and If the Subconscious Kicks In Can Vary
Depending on the amount of emotional, mental and psychological control a gymnast has and the level of mental arousal, it is possible for experienced gymnasts to maintain more conscious awareness and activity. This is not necessarily much of a benefit, since competing in “the Zone” is the ideal competitive mental state, if the proper habituated skill training has been ingrained. Different gymnasts have different kick-in points and many factors can contribute to variations, like lack of sleep, good or bad warm-ups, etc. So it is essentially impossible for gymnasts or coaches to know if and when a gymnast will revert to subconscious habituated training and block out conscious thoughts.
Base Level of Training
The base level of training is what has been habituated and ingrained in the subconscious mind to deal with a particular situation (in this case, in big competitions). The base training level is a combination of repeated, habituated training and the intent and the emotional intensity of the inputted training. Simply put, a gymnast will always do the least common denominator of what they have done in repeated practices and/or under stress. The more intense their emotion during the meet, the more they fall to the lowest level of their habituated training.
Late Coaching Useless
All coaching should be directed at building the correct skill habits over time. This is why it is necessary to constantly review and correct skills during training. At some point before major competitions, any last minute coaching or any coaching directed toward the conscious mind is simply a waste of time and may even be counterproductive, if the conscious mind is able to consciously interfere with the automatic performance by the subconscious mind. Since the conscious mind cannot directly control any physical movement or skill, having it intervene in a habituated skill can create a serious error or interruption in execution.
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