The Cause and Solution For Overcoming Mental Blocks In Sports

Many athletes in certain sports such as gymnastics, competitive cheer, trampolining, baseball, pole vaulting and golf are extremely vulnerable to mental blocks that keep them from performing like they do in practice or the past.

First of all, what is a mental block in sports?

It’s where an athlete physically cannot perform a movement or motion that they have demonstrated talent and ability for in the past.

For example, I’ve seen a number of baseball players come to me for a mental block known as “The throwing yips.”  This is where a catcher, for instance, cannot throw the ball back to the pitcher consistently. Literally, the catcher’s arm tenses or freezes up and the ball goes in the dirt or over the head of the pitcher, even when there is no competition going on.

In baseball, Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch were famous major league players who had difficulty throwing the ball to first base. Knoblauch was eventually move to the outfield as it got worse and worse.

Gymnasts and cheerleaders are also prone to mental blocks. Sometimes it builds up over time and sometimes it happens all at once but the gymnast just cannot force herself to complete a previously-acquired skill such as a back handspring.

Golfers everywhere are plagued with “the yips” where they can’t putt or swing without having involuntary spasms that throw their game off.

Pole Vaulters can’t put the pole down on their approach to the bar which is called “bailing.”

What is the cause of these sports mental blocks?

I’ve worked with many athletes with such blocks and the one commonality I find with all of them regardless of sport is:  High levels of STRESS.

Here’s the deal,   We all have 2 main functions of the mind, what I call:

The Thinking Mind (conscious mind).

and

The Power Mind (subconscious mind).

The Power Mind (PM) has one major job to do for you and that is to keep you alive and healthy. Period. That’s all. It doesn’t care about your baseball career. It doesn’t care about your happiness. It really doesn’t care about anything.  It’s just your bio-operating system installed at birth to keep you alive. It’s just like a computer operating system.

Your Thinking Mind (TM) on the other hand, is what you use to make decisions with. It’s jobs are to look, listen, learn, understand, reason, accept/reject and other such thinking functions.

Your TM wants to do well in baseball or softball. Your PM wants to keep you healthy. As long as those 2 goals mesh well, then no problem.  But, as soon as your STRESS glass overflows (to use a metaphor), then your PM may inject a problem into your game in order to get you to quit so that you reduce your stress.

Stress kills.  It’s the cause of 90% of all doctor visits.  Your PM controls your body and if it’s not happy with your stress levels, it’s going to do something to get your attention to fix the problem.  That something is the mental block. Your PM cannot properly run your body when it is constantly having to deal with the stress state.  Your sport is “optional stress” and your PM knows it.

How to overcome these blocks

The simple answer to this question is you reduce stress, which in sports generally means, reduce pressure.

I have worked with countless athletes who have released the mental block through the R.A.C.E. Formula process that includes:

  • Mastering emotions instead of fearing them.
  • Redirecting their focus away from winning and losing
  • Learning the art of telling yourself better stories (reframing)
  • Clearing out all old mental baggage and unresolved issues
  • Building confidence on internal strengths and abilities instead of external feedback

Of course, quitting your sport will eliminate the stress and pressure and that is what your PM is trying to accomplish.

Bottom line – Whatever you can do to take the pressure off of feeling like you have to  perform well or something unacceptable to you will happen.

Here’s a shortcut to run with.  Change everything you are ever motivated to do achieve from a “HAVE TO”  to a  “WANT TO.”

There is nothing in life that you truly HAVE to do.  Feel free to challenge me on this in the comments below.

Ok let’s do this,

Craig Sigl

 

57 thoughts on “The Cause and Solution For Overcoming Mental Blocks In Sports

  1. Claire van den Bosch

    Craig – a new psychotherapy client has come to me for short term support because she “has” to pass a standard “beep” fitness test to keep her job as a police officer. She failed her recent test and now feels she has a mental block about it. We’re in early stages of assessing whether there is a straightforward issue with her fitness that can be resolved with personal training sessions before the next test. But assuming she is fit enough – do you have any suggestions? She’s dedicated to her career, doesn’t want to think about the possible gains or “so what’s” of losing her current role. I intend to try to make some in-roads into this with her, to see if I can weed out any negative faulty beliefs she has about the test / herself, and to do some work on reducing other areas of stress, and bringing down anxiety levels by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Any other thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      I’ve had lots of people come to me for such testing issues. What I do is help my clients gain an understanding of what is or could be going on with them and I explain it in terms of the conscious and the unconscious mind and the functions of each. I change the frame of my work to a partnership rather than a therapist/patient. I then begin with my basic formula which I refer to often: Performance = Potential – Interference. Once you get buy in, then you are less likely to get blocked by such things as: ” doesn’t want to think about the possible gains or “so what’s” of losing her current role.” People want us to perform magic and “fix” them like a doctor prescribes pills and uses surgery and we have to get them out of that mindset before you can assist them to get over the interference patterns which in this case, is probably typical performance anxiety. Hope that helps. You might be interested in one of my programs to work with my methods. I’ve had a number of practitioners join my Advanced Mental Toughness program and my more extensive 12 week training for becoming a mental toughness trainer. Great question, thanks for comment!
      Craig

      Reply
  2. Bret

    I team rope, sometimes for fairly large amounts of money I’m having problems closing the show. I have been performing well up till the end. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Bret, There’s no simple solution for something like this. You have a blocking unconscious belief program preventing you from closing out the win. You have a few options to fix. Go through my Advanced Mental Toughness program which could do the trick as that since it is designed for eliminating such blocks. If you need some tailoring of the process to you after that, then you can work with me for a session. Alternatively, I can set you up with one of my certified trainers who charge less than me. Or, you could also work with one of my student trainers. Would be no charge. I will email you.
      Thanks for commenting,
      Craig

      Reply
  3. Wilson

    I do long jump and I can’t seem to actually jump when I go. I have a meet later this afternoon and am kind of worried that I won’t be able to go to my best.

    Reply
  4. Andrea Martin

    My daughter is 9 and is in competitive cheer. About 3 months ago she suddenly couldn’t tumble. She was afraid to go backward. She is such a good tumbler and it’s so frustrating for her because she wants to tumble like she use to but just feels like she can’t. Can she get through this mental block?

    Reply
      1. Leah

        Craig, my daughter is 9 and in competitive cheer. Same issue as Andrea’s daughter. Can you email me some suggestions as well?

        Reply
        1. Craig Sigl Post author

          Hi Leah, Thank you for comment. Looks like I need an article for this! Until then, I’ll send you something in email and then develop it from there and link it back here. Stand by!

        2. Susan Perry

          9 yo competitive gymnastics – can’t do several skills she used to all off a sudden . Can you send me the same articles please – thank you

      2. Ben Denby

        Hi Craig
        I have a similar issue with my 8 year old daughter who does back walkovers on the floor beam but won’t do it on the higher beam. Any thoughts?

        Reply
        1. Craig Sigl Post author

          Hi Ben,

          I have considered making a special program just for gymnasts and cheerleaders but I haven’t because I think the work to release this problem needs to be done in 1-1 sessions with someone who knows the process. I’m going to email you separately and recommend one of my certified trainers who is good with little kids.
          🙂
          Craig

  5. Jamie Martin

    Hi, I am unable to take the golf club back, I just freeze when I should start my swing. Ruined my game for the last few years and have almost quit.

    Reply
  6. Dina Maria

    We are trying to find someone to help my daughter, who is a gymnast, and is suffering for mental blocks on skills they come easy for her. do you have a network? Anyone in the Raleigh, NC area that accepts Cigna?

    Reply
  7. Dan Cruz

    Hi! when im hitting my long irons i freeze like i can’t do swing and i don’t where my ball will go but when comes to the driver and woods i hit it straighter than the ruler can you help me? what’s my problem?

    Reply
  8. Amy

    I’m a junior golfer and doing well in golf and making it into the national squad by next year is very important to me. For about as long as I have been playing competitive golf I have very rarely been able to perform as good is tournaments as I do in a casual round. I don’t feel pressure but I do think a lot and I just can’t seem to hit the ball in the tournament. It happens everytime. And the scores go up by double the strokes or more. Any idea what I should do?

    Reply
  9. Frank

    My daughter is competing in world cup winter sports. This week she has posted some of the worst times in her four year career, were talking seriously 6-8 min slower? even tho in training her timing have dramatically improved this year. She seems to be having mental issues. she says as soon as the beeps go everything slows down and she can hardly move. This happend at school alot during exams, in a one hour exam she only managered to answered one question after paying for a re-sit she pasted with an A. She and I am in despair her final competition is in two days and the outcome will effect her future,ie she won’t get a second chance! Trying desperately to elevate the pressure and pep talks have the opposite effect.
    She needs help now!

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Sent you an email introducing you to one of my trainers who I believe is perfect for your daughter. Sounds like she is dealing with some serious mental blocks and needs 1-1 help.
      Craig

      Reply
  10. Dennis

    Hello Craig, I went through a stressful period and ever since my golf has gone poorly. Basically, i “spin out” or “stand up” whenever I am on the course, whether it by in a practice round or a big competition makes no difference. As soon I go from the range to the course, it all falls apart.

    It seems like the “vision” of trees and other assets totally changes my swing.

    Any help would be huge. I have seen a psychologist and he believes “acceptance” is the answer.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Dennis, obviously there is far more to it than just simple “acceptance” as I’m sure you’ve tried. That’s sort of my pet peeve when people are given simplistic advice to complex issues that need to be unwound in sequence. Let me introduce you to one of my certified trainers who is equipped to get you out of this issue at a reasonable rates. I’ll email you separately.
      Greens and Fairways,

      Craig

      Reply
  11. Mark

    My son has recently changed high schools to compete at a higher level of basketball. His fear of failure is taking over and preventing him from playing anywhere near his potential. We are concerned about the amount of stress he is feeling.

    Reply
  12. Patrick Dowd

    My practice swing in golf is perfectly
    on plane without any technical flaws
    But when I get over THE ball and actually hit it -the swing is completely different -night /day -the latter swing being much less desirable
    It’s the same person -the practice swing is flawless and the actual swing 5 seconds later like it was someone else !
    Any ideas of coaching appreciated
    I have videos
    Thx

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Patrick, thanks for comment. Yes, your unconscious mind gets triggered in situations where the outcome of your swing matters to you. It’s not an easy fix but it is fixable. My best work for that is here: http://golfshortcutsecrets.com/info/from-range-to-course/. If you get that, I’ll also throw in http://golfshortcutsecrets.com/info/shortcuts-to-consistency-part-4-going-low/ just to make sure we nail it.
      Greens and Fairways,

      Craig

      Reply
  13. Lora Keiser

    My son is 16 years old and is a pole vaulter. He has been vaulting since he was in 6th grade. This year his performance has dramatically increased. He has reached a point where his mechanics are solid and he knows what a good vault should “feel” like. Recently he has not been able to “plant” the pole and take off. He starts his run, but at the end he will not plant the pole and simply runs through. He says something just feels wrong and he physically can’t complete the vault. I would appreciate any help you can give.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Lora,

      This is a common thing in Pole Vaulting that I have dealt with many times. It’s called “bailing” and to get over it requires one on one work. If you’re interested, I can connect you to one of my best trainers to help him. At the top of this page is a story of one of my pole vaulter clients: https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/fearless

      That program might do the trick depending on how motivated he is to implement it. It takes a self starter to make it work to solve “bailing”

      let me know if you want me to refer a trainer who can work with him at reasonable rates. (I’m not reasonable).

      Craig

      Reply
  14. Eric Sredzinski

    Hi Craig- would like some additional information on the process for mental coaching of a 13 year old. My son plays competitive soccer and has the typical, type a personality. He had a significant fracture of his ankle 2 years ago and put the work in to be on a highly competitive club team. Unfortunately, he has more ‘off’ moments, playing safe and not to his potential. We have had conversations with him, had a local mind coach for 10 sessions, and read mind gym together. He is a very incredible young man, just needs the tools to combat his own limits.

    Thanks- Eric

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Eric, I could write a book here on what you need to do with your son. Bottom line… he’s dealing with deep-seated
      fears that get triggered in competition. Those belief programs need to be removed. It’s not an easy thing to do but that is
      what my R.A.C.E. Formula is exactly designed for. Typical “mind coaches” do not go to the core of the problem which is why
      he is still struggling. A book has even less chance of achieving that. If he is mature enough, or you go through it with him,
      my Fearless competitor is where I would first start. If he gets benefit, and wants more, then later upgrade to Advanced mental toughness.
      Past that, then 1 on 1 work with one of my trainers for deeper work would be the ultimate solution.
      Thanks for following and commenting!
      Craig

      Reply
  15. Anni-Grace

    HI Craig, I’m working on a science paper for school on mental blocks in sports and am wondering if you can help me find a couple sources for the paper.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Anni-Grace,

      You can source anything on my site for your paper.

      Here’s a few on mental blocks:

      https://www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/mental-blocks-in-athletes/

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/cant-push-myself

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/personal-mental-block

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/other-block

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/negative-mind

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/inner-critic

      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/nervousness

      good luck on the paper!

      Reply
  16. Mark

    Hi Craig,

    I am a volunteer volleyball coach. My team has a two fold issue.

    First, they seem to play to the level of their opponents. No matter how strong or weak the team is.
    Secondly, as the young ladies can’t seem to finish. They can be 10 points ahead with just a few to go and they fall apart. It seems like they are afraid to fail, so they freeze up.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Mark,

      You are absolutely correct that they are afraid to fail and so freeze up. This is a deep-seated mental block most kids have that can really get activated in a team setting. It spreads like a virus at times as I’m sure you’ve seen. The best thing I can offer you is the H.S. Coaches Mental Toughness Toolbox which is designed to deal with and prevent this specifically (and other such team mental issues). I have a new special page with a discount set up if that interests you: https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/coach-toolbox-aca.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Craig

      Reply
  17. Jill M McMahon

    I am a varsity cheer coach and I have an 8th grader on my team that has attended tumbling classes for years she is amazing . But for some reason has this mental block we have started competition she does not want to do any tumbling . She will still go to classes . We really need her to perform and I know she is frustrated as well . Please help

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Jill,

      Cheerleading/gymnastics tumbling blocks are something that needs to be worked through one-on-one with someone who understands the causes and solutions. I would be happy to refer you to one of my certified trainers who has specialization and success in this area. I only work with people for 3-month coaching (and expensive) which would be overkill for your 8th grader. Thanks for your enquiry.

      Craig

      Reply
  18. Katie Golden

    Like some previous posts, my daughter (11) who does all star cheer has been dealing with a mental block for about a year. She lost the ability to do a backwalkover and backhandspring. She got her backwalkover back, but not her bhs. She can only do it while being spotted and most of the time with hesitation. Every coach in my gym has seen it. Can you help?

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Katie, I have developed a protocol for this that has been quite successful over the years. I wish I could create a home study program that would do the trick for such blocks but frankly, it just needs to be done in one-to-one personal work. I’m too expensive for most people but would be happy to refer you to one of my certified trainers at very reasonable rates to use this process for your daughter. I will email you.
      Thanks for enquiry and commenting,

      Craig

      Reply
  19. Christin

    Like some of the other comments here, I have a level 7 gymnast who is suddenly refusing to tumble backwards. She will do a back handspring on the beam no problem but can’t tumble on the floor. Any help or referrals are much appreciated!

    Reply
  20. Tami

    Craig, great article. Like the person above we have a son who went back hand spring anymore unless someone is within a foot of him. I’d love so see some of the suggestions/links you mentioned above to some of the other Gymnastic parents. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Tami,

      Thank you for the comment. These types of mental blocks for gymnasts are all too common but also very complex to release. I have discovered a sequential process in unwinding how these kids twist themselves into it. Basically, it comes down to their unconscious mind is throwing a wrench in the spokes to try to send a message to the kid through something they are really interested in to make sure the message gets across. The message is different for every kid which is why I haven’t come up with an online program for it. I believe it needs to be done 1-1 with someone who knows my system. I’m too expensive for most people but I will email you recommending one of my top certified trainers who I think will be great for your son.

      Here for support or questions any time,

      best regards,

      Craig

      Reply
  21. Holli

    My son is a senior in high school and plays baseball. He is a strong hitter during the select season but has always had a hard time during high school play. His coach tells him he has to hit the ball or will not play. This season seems to be worse with the pressure of college recruitment on top of not getting to play. He cannot hit the ball at all during a game but during practice usually blast it. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Holli,

      Sorry for delay in response. This is so typical and why I created a new program for baseball players with this issue. https://baseballsoftballmentaltoughness.com
      Alternatively, for a mature teen, he might get more benefit and cut to the chase faster with my Fearless Competitor program:
      https://sportsmentaltoughness.com/fearless

      The Practice to Game problem ultimately comes down to fear of failure triggered in the central nervous system. This can easily be fixed through the R.A.C.E. Formula protocol (Free podcasts on that here: https://www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/category/podcasts/).
      Craig
      Happy to answer any specific questions.

      Reply
  22. Rebecca

    My 17yr old daughter has been a high jumper for years, she’s one of the best in state for her other events but has suddenly developed a block when it comes time to jump. Even during practice. Her approach is perfect every time but just can’t make herself jump. She’s tried positive mental self talk, she’s tried telling herself it’s just practice when it’s a meet, or it’s only 4’6 when it’s really 5’2. I’ve told her she needs to think about anything other than her jump when she’s up there because even her positive talk seems to stress her out. Or to envision herself jumping as if she is a spectator watching herself. Nothing seems to work. I don’t think she is buying in to her calming methods. Her stress to achieve is pushed on her mainly by herself and a little bit her coaches and not at all by her parents (we are very hands off when it comes to performance) She is naturally a gifted person that likes to do well but not really a perfectionist. She is asking for help and I don’t have an answer. I say things like “pretend you’re a ninja jumping in slow motion” it’s ridiculous but maybe you’ll calm down and not be so serious and then you’ll be relaxed. Clearly I’m not equipped to be giving her advice. How can we help her.

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Rebecca, sorry for my delay in response. I’ve got the perfect person (other than me) to work with her if she is serious about overcoming this. I wish I had a simple solution for these blocks but there just isn’t. It usually must be done 1-1 going deep into clearing mental baggage that causes stress. I’ll have a trainer I think is the best for your daughter email you.
      Craig

      Reply
  23. Lesley Borthwick

    Hi my daughter is 12 and was a very good trampolinist was at a very high level but now she can’t do a summersault and was doing 8 in one routine , we have went back to basics but seems to be a slow progress

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Lesley, Sorry to hear that and it’s all too common. I am going to have one of my trainers email you to see if you would like to have your daughter work with her. She is very good at these blocks, especially with young girls.
      Craig

      Reply
  24. DC

    Craig,
    My daugher is doing competitive HS Cheer and has a block when it comes to tumbling. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi DC,
      A big part of the solution to overcoming these tumbling blocks is getting the athlete to buy into the solution, which is to reduce stress. The more the person feels they HAVE to get over the block, the more stress they put on themselves and thus the problem. Typically, this needs to be done using the athlete’s model of the world and what they understand about themselves which is why I recommend working one on one with someone who knows what they are doing. I will email you with one of my recommended trainers if you’d like to deal with this issue. We have had a lot of success at releasing tumbling blocks. I was featured on ABC for my work with a gymnast for that: https://www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com/success-stories/ (top one).
      Craig

      Reply
  25. Aly

    I saw all of your suggestions for competitive cheer. I have a similar issue with my daughter. I also saw that you said you would email. I did not see your email but I would love to see what you are sharing. Can you send me?

    Reply
  26. Lee

    Hi, I am a pitcher for my high school softball team. I pitch 57 to 60 mile hour when I pitch with my pitching coach privately. When I get in a game with the batter at the plate I don’t throw as fast. So how do I get myself to throw faster in a game?

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Lee, You have to identify the blocking belief program at the level of the inner mind and release it. It may have something to do with fear of failure or fear of success that interferes with your pitching by slightly tightening up your muscles thereby making you pitch a little slower. My brand new baseball mental toughness program is designed to do that for you: https://baseballsoftballmentaltoughness.com/special-offer

      Craig

      Reply
  27. Dani

    Hi! My daughter is 16, a competitive cheerleader who over rotated her double and fell on her back. Since then, she has lost her full and double in the spring floor but can do it on a rod floor. She has tryouts for in 3 weeks at the highest competitive level and she so stressed about her block. Is there hope?!

    Reply
    1. Craig Sigl Post author

      Hi Dani, There is hope but she needs to work with someone who knows how to release this kind of a block. Especially with this little time remaining. I have had success in emergency situations like this but the stress of “I have to perform” is the biggest thing preventing it from releasing and has to be dealt with first. I’ll send you an email with a suggestion for someone I have trained who can help her.
      Craig

      Reply

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