Category Archives: Get Tough

How to Help Your Young Gymnast Overcome Fear and Anxiety

How to help a young gymnast overcome fear and anxiety
The words “I can’t” are often heard in the gym. 
But the gymnast who says they can’t doesn’t say it because they physically can’t try a new move. The words “I can’t” don’t represent a lack of ability or physical strength at all. 

“I can’t” represents fear and anxiety. They’re totally natural responses to trying something new, especially in gymnastics.

Remember, gymnastics isn’t like tennis or volleyball. Gymnastics holds significantly more risk than virtually any other sport.

Gymnasts at any level can hurt themselves in any number of ways every time they show up for practice.

The likelihood that a young gymnast will fall on their head, face, back, knees, or anywhere else from a serious height is far more significant than any sport.

So learning to positively deal with negative feelings like fear? You signed up for that when you dropped your child off at their very first lesson.

Fear and Anxiety: It Happens to Everyone

Your young gymnast is not alone in their fears and anxieties.

In fact, it would be hard to find a gymnast who was never afraid performing of a particular skill.

It’s worth reiterating that gymnastics requires gymnasts to use every muscle in their body to throw their bodies upside down and twist them around while attempting to land on a piece of wood 3 inches thick.

Did we mention they do all this backwards, too?

Oh, and they need to smile when they do it.

Even elite gymnasts, like seven-time Olympic gold medalist and gymnastics icon Shannon Miller or tumbling phenom Simone Biles experience fear and anxiety in the gym.

The first thing to understand about fear and encouraging your young gymnast is recognizing that everyone is afraid sometimes.

Being afraid doesn’t mean they’re weaker than other gymnasts. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t have what it takes to succeed.

It’s natural. In fact, fear is useful.

Fear Is A Gymnast’s Best Friend (After Chalk)

Fear keeps gymnasts from flinging themselves off the bars attempting a skill they’re nowhere near ready for. It prevents injuries. Being scared sometimes keeps you safe.

Relating the message that fear is natural is important not because gymnasts should be allowed to be perpetually afraid.

Giving them the confidence to let you know their scared is important so you can help them fix the problem.

Lashing out or shaming them doesn’t help. It only makes them afraid to tell you they’re anxious or nervous, which adds to the negative feelings.

Compounding negativity takes the fun out of sport – and that’s where they’re there.

Instead, help them get over their fears by allowing you to help them work through it using various strategies for overcoming fear.

Why You Shouldn’t Force Them Through Fear

The worst thing you can do as a coach or parent of a young gymnast is to force the child to perform the skill there and then when they’re afraid.

It often seems like the right thing to do.

How often do parents throw their children into the pool to teach them to swim?

Well, that doesn’t work in gymnastics.

Here’s why:

According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, fear and anxiety in gymnastics often result in a skill block during movement or execution.

That manifestation of worry is important. Gymnasts have two options when they go for a skill.

  • The first option is to commit to it 100%.
  • The second option is to bail and practice a modified version of the skill in a safer space.

But what about the 99% in between?

There is no halfway in gymnastics. Committing halfway to a skill, regardless of the difficulty or where it’s performed, never goes well. In some cases, it leads to a half-hearted attempt with bad form. Too often, it results in injuries whether temporary or otherwise.

Either way, going 50% of the way never looks pretty.

Here’s another reason force doesn’t work in gymnastics like it does at the pool. If your child flails around in the water before starting to drown, you go in after them. They get a little water up their nose or in their ears. Your child is probably scared and angry at you for throwing them in. But generally, they’re fine.

If a gymnast bails mid-move, they’ll land on their head and likely get hurt (usually temporarily). There’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t dive in after them without either making the damage worse or getting hurt yourself. Instead, you’ve just proven their fears correct: they did what they were so afraid of and they got hurt.

Instead, you’ve just proven their fears correct: they did what they were so afraid of and they got hurt. See? They had every reason to be afraid and there will be no more back handsprings on the beam.

Again, there are only ever two choices if you want to keep your young gymnast safe.

Don’t force them into performing tasks they’re not ready for.

Do better. Give them the skills they need to get around their mental blocks and overcome their fears.

Identifying Fear in Young Gymnasts

When working with a young gymnast, it’s important to remember you’re working with a child.

fear buster course

Kids aren’t as skilled at identifying and overcoming emotions are adults are.

They don’t always have the experience to identify their fear and begin to work to overcome it.

Here are three steps to begin to work through fear:

1. Work Together to Identify the Source of the Fear

First, you need to work together to figure out where the fear comes from. Is the fear because of a previous fall? Is a lack of self-confidence? Or is the athlete really too weak to successfully perform the skill? Are they unable to make the shapes required to perform safely?

Help the child identify what they’re afraid of. Is it falling? Is it getting hurt?

2. Work to Correct the Identified Fear

Is the child afraid of falling off the high beam? Are they afraid of running into the vaulting table? Are they afraid of being unable to perform a skill their peers have mastered?

Use their fear and match it. Provide a solution.

Move them off the high beam or add mats to prevent major falls.

Add vaulting drills or practice with the springboard on the floor.

Work on the skill in private away from prying eyes. Remind the gymnast that they are capable and that every gymnast has a weak spot. There’s no shame in not being able to master every single skill.

We’ll talk more about strategies for correcting and alleviating fears in the next section.

3. Create Disciplined Thinking

Fear on its own is a positive thing. It goes wrong when it leads to thoughts that run wild and lead to negative possibilities. Some of those possibilities are out of the realm of possibility. Others are somewhat possible.

It goes wrong when it leads to thoughts that run wild and lead to negative possibilities. Some of those possibilities are out of the realm of possibility. Others are somewhat possible.

Either way, when you lose control of your thoughts, you also often lose control of your performance.

This is the biggest stumbling block for gymnasts. Losing the necessary focus required to nail a skill or a series – no matter how elementary – is what ultimately leads to the accidents a young gymnast is afraid of.

Free failure prevention tool for gymnasts
Free failure prevention tool for gymnasts

Disciplined thinking is the ultimate strategy no only in overcoming fear but in becoming a better athlete.

Technical strategies are a great way to create disciplined thinking.

Create a chain of commands that the gymnast needs to follow to successfully the skill.

Break down the move or series into individual pieces. Body parts or muscle groups often work best. Then, teach it to the gymnast. 

It’s a device that works two ways.

First, it improves performance by reminding them of the technical details of the move using an auditory method.

For example, if they’re performing a layout with a full twist and they struggle with the timing of their arms, create programming for that.

Arms up. Pull in. Squeeze. Twist.

Second, it provides ordered thinking for the gymnast to focus on before performing the skill. It preoccupies their mind so they don’t focus on the noise telling them they might fail.

Moving On and Moving Up: Strategies for Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is as important for gymnastics as flexibility and strength. It gives young gymnasts what they need to get over their fears and reach the next skill level. But more importantly, mental toughness helps every gymnast drive further in their sport. It provides the confidence needed to avoid being psyched out by your competition.

Mental toughness helps you correct yourself even when you feel out of balance. Risks become less scary because you can visualize payoffs. Setbacks are no longer career ending. 

But once again, mental toughness is the goal. But driving out fear is the issue at hand – though, strategies for dealing with fear are intimately tied up with mental toughness.

Different strategies will be more appropriate for some gymnasts and certain situations. So, it’s worthwhile to be aware of as many as possible to adopt them.

Check the Lead Ups and Progressions

In some cases, the gymnast either hasn’t developed the skills required or doesn’t realize they’ve developed the skills required to complete the full move.

Look to see whether they can breakdown the skill into smaller pieces. Drill those parts of the skill until they realize they’re capable and confident. Then, put them back up.

Get Down and Practice More

In a video for her website, Shannon Miller talks about dealing with her own fear on the balance beam. She says she coped with her own fear using several strategies.

Gymnasts who find themselves frozen on the beam shouldn’t stand there. Instead of psyching themselves out, Miller recommends hopping off the beam right away.

If after a count of three, she can’t do the skill. The young gymnast needs to get off the beam.

Get down. Practice the skill on the floor. Get back up on the beam. Try again.

If it’s still too scary, jump right back down and repeat. Start on the floor. Move to a low beam. Head to a middle beam. Get back up on the high beam.

Miller says there are two major benefits to this.

First, it stops the mental block from becoming worse. It keeps you moving. It doesn’t allow the block to become a big traumatic experience that ends in tears and puts the young gymnast off the skill for a longer period.

Second, it allows the gymnast to drill the skill, which ultimately makes them better in the long run.

Don’t Make Mental Blocks an Issue at Home

Athletes who are struggling in the gym are already feeling pressure.

While much of getting children over the hump is the coach’s responsibility through training and on-the-spot analysis, parents also play a major role

Gymnasts aren’t simply worried about disappointing themselves or feeling embarrassed in front of their peers. They don’t want to disappoint their parents either.

They know their parents spend time and money on their sport. When they can’t perform, many young gymnasts feel guilt.

Don’t let the mental block in the gym affect your relationship at home.

Even if you aren’t concerned with their progress, asking them about whether they’ve overcome their mental block can stress them out further.

Instead, don’t ask them if they’ve finally nailed their skill. Ask them if they had fun or what their favorite part of practice was.

Mental Toughness is an Essential Skill in Gymnastics

It’s a sport where you’ll fall down more often than not, and it requires serious bravery just to attempt some of the basic skills.

But don’t forget that fear is a natural part of the sport, too. It keeps your child safe while also serving as a motivating factor. Fear makes sure your young gymnast is ready to commit 100% to every move or series.

Sometimes, we need extra help with being tough. After all, gymnastics is hard and the competition is fierce. 

Help Your Gymnast Overcome Fear and Anxiety with Mental Toughness Training

Mental Toughness training is there for you and your young gymnast.  It will help your gymnast overcome fear and anxiety, and then perform at their potential.

Test your gymnast’s toughness today and  then work with your child to take their skills to the next level with our Mental Toughness Training Program.


History of Mental Toughness

sports research 1970s
Melvin R. Ramey, of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UC Davis, conducting research  circa 1970. A UC Davis athlete, Keith Williams, takes off from the biomechanics force platform constructed by Ramey, in the Structures Laboratory in Bainer Hall at UC Davis. While research on physical performance has long been studied, mental toughness research is a much younger discipline.

For more than a century, scientists have studied the psychology behind sports and performance. The study of mental toughness, as an offshoot of that discipline, is a relative newcomer. Here’s how it was developed and who are the luminaries in this short history of mental toughness.

Mental toughness provides a way to measure resilience and confidence as well as coaching methods for improvement. From its roots in the 1900s to today’s easy to access performance tools, the concept of mental toughness has evolved. It is now a useful tool for any performance minded person (athlete, entertainer, business person, soldier, and beyond) that wants to manage stress, anxiety, doubt, self-consciousness, and fear – and create breakthrough results.

Early Years of Mental Toughness

In 1898,  psychologist Norman Triplett conducted the first recognized sport psychology experiment. His study showed that cyclists in a race were faster in competition with other racers than in individual time-trials, identifying social influence as a motivator.

But it wasn’t until 1925 that Coleman Griffith studied the effect of mental characteristics on sports performance. He worked with the Chicago Cubs until 1940, and is considered the founder of sport psychology.

Little was done in the field for nearly two decades until sport psychologists started unifying in the late 1960s. It didn’t take long for players and coaches in professional sports to take notice. Much of NFL Coach Vince Lombardi’s success is attributed to working with players to remove doubt and to convince them that winning was the only acceptable outcome.

He is famously quoted as saying: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Coach Vince Lombardi and Green Bay Packers player Bart Starr (credit: public domain)

Lombardi too is  sometimes referred to as the father of mental toughness.

Olympic interest in mental toughness

In the 1980s the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) became interested in the potential of sport psychology. In 1983 they created a registry of sport psychologists with advanced degrees to provide referrals to athletes who wanted to improve the mental aspect of their game.

 Important Advances in Mental Toughness

If mental toughness only had implications for athletes, it might never have evolved to the extent that is has. However, Dr. Jim Loehr recognized the same principles could be applied to business.

His book, “Mentally Tough: The Principles of Winning at Sports Applied to Winning in Business” was published in 1986. He wrote 15 more books, focusing on the importance of applying energy and focus to be fully engaged in the project at hand.

In recent years the goal has been to establish quantifiable measurements of mental toughness to make it possible to reliably assess resiliency and hardiness. Mental toughness evaluations can also be used to select who can be place in high stress positions and still success.

How Mental Toughness in Sports Psychology Relates to Business

Business leaders need to have their head in the game every bit as much as an athlete. The six main features of mental toughness that easily translate into the challenges that leaders face include:


Adversity happens in boardrooms too. Personal attacks must be handled with the same composure as athletes are expected to exhibit on the field.


Knowing how to remain optimistic and rebound quickly in the face of adversity is important in any situation.

Courage and ethics

There will always be the temptation to cut corners or make short-sighted decisions, but acting with with confidence and courage makes it easier to make difficult decisions that are right and that are inside the rules set out by the competitive environment.


Leaders can face seemingly insurmountable odds just like a team on the field. Having the confidence and strength to persevere is what results in success.


Curve balls happen in more than baseball. Having the ability to remain flexible and find another way to move forward is important. Leaders need to constantly adapt to changes rather than being defensive about an old method that isn’t working.


This is similar to flexibility, except it addresses how quickly the performer can adapt, and how successfully decisions are made under pressure.

Future of Mental Toughness Coaching

Highly successful companies recognize that providing employees the tools for success profits the business. Mental toughness coaching is especially useful in industries where competition is heavy and escalating complexity puts executives under extreme pressure.

Many occupations are inherently high stress – medical workers, emergency responders, and military personnel, to name a few. But any occupation can be stressful for someone with inadequate mental toughness. Mental toughness coaching as a stress management tool is proving to be effective in many industries and professions.

Parents should consider mental toughness coaching for their children – whether athletic or now. Building resiliency makes it easier to meet life’s challenges and handle the pressures they will inevitably face.

Mental toughness as a discipline has proven it has a place in the coaches’ training arsenal from youth athletics to professional teams. It is increasingly recognized that mental toughness training can be successfully adapted to many other demanding pursuits. This has exciting implications for all professionals who have to compete in ever more competitive environments.

Have you taken our mental toughness test? It takes 2 minutes. Click here

Bouchard to Wimbledon Final

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada becomes the first woman to ever make a grand slam tennis final, in only her second full season on the WTA tour, and she did it in style beating 7-6, 6-2 over Simona Halep.  

Just last year the Globe and Mail ran a story on Bouchard in which she described what she did to move into the pros full-time.  Bouchard explained:

“In the past year I improved my mental toughness on the court and my footwork”.   

What I love most about that quote is that Bouchard puts her mental skills on par with her physical skills, like they’re equally as important and she’ll develop them the same way, through repetition in practice.

So often athletes and coaches assume that the Mental Toughness just happens – yet if athletes consciously work on it, take it on as a priority as important as their footwork, look at the results that can ensue!

And it looks like her work has paid off. Congratulations Eugenie – Canada is very proud and the world is inspired.

Something to think about…

“When weeds come up in your garden, it does no good to say, ‘There are no weeds, there are no weeds, there are no weeds . . .’  It doesn’t help to pretend they’re not there.  It doesn’t matter how much you focus on the beautiful plants that are growing.  The weeds aren’t going to disappear until you get on your hands and knees and pull them out.  

In your own life, you can’t just ‘focus on the positive, focus on the positive, focus on the positive’, and expect your problems to go away.  If there are some weeds, you have to deal with them.”

– Nick Ortner, Philanthropist and Author of
The Tapping Solution

What weeds do you have that you need to go to work on pulling out? The first step is being aware, and then to share so that other people can help you.  It’s much easier to de-weed a garden with help than do it on your own.  Reach out if you want any support, or even just to share :D.

The Best Way to Get to The Top

There’s not much for me to say here.  The arm chair athlete might have the best strategies and ideas to win, however it’s easy to know what to do when you’re imagining it and not so easy when it’s crunch time.  

The only way to get to the top is to get off your bottom: to put yourself in that situation, that moment, under pressure and see what you do.  That’s the only way to get better at performing for real, in the game.  

Now, people who know me know I am a huge supporter of visualization – and so you might be thinking this Mental Toughness Tip opposes visualization (since you do visualization while sitting on your bottom), and that’s not the case.  

Even visualizing is getting off your bottom, in fact it’s getting of your bottom more than most athletes do as most athletes and high performers do not train their mental toughness.  

When I say get off your bottom, I mean get in action towards your goals. Whether that action be visualizing, doing your workout for the day, eating according to plan, doing extra technical repetitions, whatever it is for you.  

And sometimes you won’t want to – I know I didn’t always want to – and that’s irrelevant.  The point is to get off your bottom, do something, get in action, and with each step you’ll get closer to the top.

Every second counts….

I’m guessing that’s the last picture you expected to see after reading the subject of this Mental Toughness Tip.  I know I’d be like ‘What? I can cut seconds by taking a nap? I don’t get it’  or ‘This is what mental preparation looks like, sleeping?’

Above is my CrossFit Athlete Virginia.  Virg and I have been working together for about 8 months now, and her results both in the gym and in her life have been mind-blowing (and she can’t always see them as she’s so close and so competitive). Continue reading

Your mind quits first, but keep going.

It is your mind that determines what’s possible.  You’re so much more powerful, more capable, and more resilient than you think.  Learn to trust your body.  There will always be pain when you’re pushing yourself to the next level.  It’s outside of your comfort zone, you’re entering into unchartered territory, you’re body doesn’t quite know how to get there yet.  Your mind will quit first, I promise you.  You’ll give up on yourself, on your body, and on what’s possible.

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If at first you don’t succeed. . .

You often don’t know how the competition is going to end

I just got off the phone with one of my rockstar athletes.  If you don’t already know, I work with a lot of young gymnasts. Gymnastics is a sport of inches, and mental toughness can really make or break their performance.

At the Canadian Provincial Championships this past weekend, one of my athletes got to experience first-hand the power of mental toughness (and mental toughness training).

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