Mental Blocks In Sport - Gymnastics & Trampoline

Learn The Power Of “Distancing”

What can an athlete do if they have fear over a skill? As discussed throughout our FTA Online Training Program, if an athlete has fear, it means fundamentally a part of the 3D Map of spatial awareness is missing. Let's face it though, no one is perfect and ideologies about filling in the 3D Map completely takes many years to do effectively and by that time, mistakes have already been made in order to keep climbing the competitive hierarchy in the short term.

Here is a simple psychological trick you can use to help speed up the process of getting over a mental block or Lost Move Syndrome (LMS). Before I explain it, I want to be clear that I do not condone the use of tricks to get past barriers and then forget them. This trick will help you get past a barrier but to stay past it you have to go find that missing piece of your 3D Map! Do not just run on by and then repeat the same mistake somewhere else. These tricks are band-aids for a moment in time but are not a full solution.

Psychologists have studied ways to help get over anxiety and one of the common treatments for anxiety is all about perspective. As an athlete who has a lot of pressure on them, given the highly competitive nature of the sport, they will see themselves as the problem so they will naturally think about what they can do in that moment to fix the issue. Nothing really comes to mind and then anxiety increases when there is a lack of potential solutions to pick from.

If you have an athlete that is having this issue tell them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Tell them to tell you as the coach, what they think they see in their 40 year old future self. What would they tell themselves after they grow up and get through this particular issue. Tell them to talk to themselves in the third person using their own name as if its not themselves they are talking to, but some other athlete distant from them.

It is called “Distancing” and is very simple conceptually to understand. Have a problem? Get away from it then. Sounds absurdly simple right? Maybe too simple to actually work? Research from 2017 led by Jason Moser showed that activity in the emotional parts of our brain, specifically the medial prefrontal cortex/anterior cingulate cortex were greatly reduced when subjects were asked to use their own name in a third person sort of way when reflecting on a negative experience.

This means that by distancing yourself from the event in your mind that is giving you anxiety by simply using your own name can help reduce the emotional, uncontrollable parts of our brain so you have more rational thoughts flowing from the frontal cortex. By reducing the emotion out of a problem by distancing yourself from it in these kinds of ways helps over power the limbic/emotional parts of the brain.


Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-04047-3


This comes with caveat. You can’t simply talk yourself into doing something that your biology knows is not a good idea, nor should you want to. That fear is your body’s way of telling you something is missing. You don’t get fear walking down the street on a regular day do you? But if you wanted to run in the middle of the road you would feel more anxious or feel more adrenaline which are similar in many ways.

I would use this technique if the athlete is having a bad day at competition but not as a way artificially suppress emotions to just get past a potentially deep rooted technical problem or miss step in training. It can help you get through the competition at hand because it helps make you more rational but do not think that’s a long term solution. If you are using it as a training technique your simply delaying the process of going back and figuring our what made you anxious in the first place.

The back of your brain your fighting when you have anxiety or fear is much, much, much older than you are so yes you can help persuade the brain in this way to give you a bit more leeway but that is not a long term solution!

To conclude I would simply say that your day to day progressions and mentality when training and filling in those gaps in your 3D Map will be what reduces long term fear and anxiety but these small tricks can help you get through the immediate short term solutions until you can have more time in the gym to address the deep biological factors that distancing and other ‘tricks’ really can’t solve.

We have many different videos discussing fear, and how to learn to bail in the FTA Training Program. We also do online coaching to work with athletes on their fears and help give them a different perspective that has been shown to really give athletes more confidence. Contact us for more information.


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