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).
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,