A Coach's Role in Managing an Athlete's Mental Block

May 30, 2023


The Crucial Role of Coaches in Mental Block Management of Athletes

Managing athletes with mental blocks requires a coach’s immediate attention. In this episode 89 of Brain in the Game, we delve into what we can do, as coaches, to support athlete's experiencing a mental block by:

🧱 Understanding the Causation: We discuss the ways to identify the root cause of the mental block, and how to find out whether it stems from a fear of actual consequences or if it's created through imagination – and the different approaches needed for each scenario.

🧱 The Importance of Early Intervention: How to address the cause promptly and whether it requires technical adjustments or others to support the athlete's emotional resilience. 

🧱 Managing the Emotion: The crucial reason to eliminate emotions from the equation and the pragmatic steps to and guide athletes through the process. 

The longer athletes are left to struggle with mental blocks, the longer the consequences linger, and the greater the impact on not only their own skill development, but their teammates too.

As coaches, sometimes our role goes beyond the technical aspects so it’s useful to be self-critical in these key areas, as the fix for an athlete’s mental block won't come to them naturally.

So tune in for an eye-opening discussion on effectively managing athlete mental blocks and discover the actionable strategies to support athletes who are either experiencing a mental block, or those in the early stages of developing one.



Hello and welcome back to Brain in the Game.

Brain in the Game is a podcast that's been specifically designed for athletes, coaches and parents who are looking to do their sport just that little bit smarter. And I'm your host, Dave Diggle.

In this episode 89, I'm going to do something a little bit special for you. I'm going to let you behind the curtain of our Main Arena Coach programme. In that programme, we have elite and professional coaches who are part of a membership and we, each week, discuss cutting edge techniques and processes around performing athletes, and what we as coaches can do to perform as coaches way smarter.

The reason I want to introduce you into this episode of our Main Arena Coach is because we raised a topic around mental blocks for athletes and what we can do as coaches to better manage our athletes to create a more robust and resilient athlete to mental blocks.

I just want to let you know that what I have done is remove the images of the other coaches and their voices because it is a closed private group. But you will get to understand and witness and see everything I take these coaches through in an effort to help them better manage their athletes.

So sit back and either listen or watch how we, as coaches, can way better manage our athletes with mental blocks.

Okay, so that wraps up the mental preparation as a coach for competition. If we've got no more questions, I want to actually answer a question that was raised last week. Just as we were about to wrap up, Sue sent me a message and she said to me: Dave, I've got a challenge in my tumble gym that we keep getting mental blocks. It will go through stages of having a mental block for the athletes and then it's gone. Then it comes back, it'll start with one athlete and then go to multiple athletes. Is there something wrong with me as a coach, or is it our culture?

So, first things first. Thanks, Sue, for the question. It's a really common issue we find in most sporting organisations, particularly athletes in acro-based sports. Now, we've talked on this programme before about mental blocks, why athletes get them and what they can do to overcome those. I want to first, before I answer the question regarding, is this a coaching issue or is this something that's a cultural issue within the organisation, within that group? I want us just to do a real quick recap on what exactly is happening in an athlete's mind when they get mental blocks, because that's going to dictate how we as coaches can respond to this, what we can do different. So this is going to be probably about 5-10 minutes of today's session. I want to spend the first five minutes talking about an athlete's mindset, first of all. That will help us. Okay, so let me just move over to my iPad and I'll bring up the blueprint. So in order for us to understand what's going on for an athlete and how we as coaches can better impact and help them control a mental block, we've got to understand what the mental block is first. But before we do that, we've got to understand exactly how we learn. All humans learn the same way. Thanks, Sue. I'll probably come to you after this part and just ask you for some more specifics. Okay, so when we're going through and learning anything so on my screen here, obviously, you can see is a front somersault, it doesn't matter if it's a front somersault whether we're learning a closed skill like a kick for rugby, football, soccer, any other sport, whether it's cricket and a certain batting technique, whether it's ice skating and a jumping technique, doesn't really matter. Or whether we're riding a bike, cleaning our teeth, our brain goes through the same process. And when we think about mental blocks, understanding this process is critical to both correcting a mental block, but also building some kind of immunity towards mental blocks.

So when we go to learn anything, our brain goes and creates this almost silhouette version of what we're looking for, its initial perception of why we're doing that skill and what it's doing it's looking for: Have I got a blueprint already? So, like this somersault here, what you'll see is like a silhouette version and the brain's going: Have I done this before? Do I have a blueprint? Because ultimately, what it's trying to do is trying to create an efficiency in the process. It doesn't want to go and reinvent the wheel or reinvent the somersault if it's already done it before. If it hasn't done this skill before or it doesn't recognise that this is the way that we're going to do this skill, then we're going to go through a very set process. And it's this set process that often causes a lot of our challenges in mental blocks.

So once we've gone through and got that silhouette, what the brain does is it simplifies. So for this somersault, it's got, I'm going to run, I'm going to jump, I'm going to somersault, I'm going to land. And when we see this simplified version, what we see here [let me just grab my pen], is you'll see a whole heap of gaps in the process. And it's these gaps that are critical when we're trying to correct a mental block. Because let me ask you, just put in the comments here. What holds these parts of the skill together. Okay, so some of you are saying knowledge, some of you are saying replicability or consistency or frequency. There's some of the words that are coming up here. And when you think about it from an athlete's perspective, that's also the currency they try to trade in, isn't it? I've done it X amount of times, so therefore I should be able to do it. So let's get down to a much deeper level of understanding of exactly what's happening here. What's holding these skills together isn't frequency because it's a new skill, right? So we don't actually yet have the frequency and the consistency to hold that together. So what we're using to hold these together is feelings, or more specifically, emotion. How does it feel? Does it feel safe? Does it feel comfortable? Does it feel smooth? And that's going to hold these parts together until it gets put under pressure. So let me just get rid of this part here and again, focus on these big gaps.

So if we're learning this skill, what's going to happen in the athlete's brain is we're going to learn it in parts. How do we eat the elephant? A chunk at a time. So the brain's going to want to learn the first part. So as coaches we teach this, right? If it's a somersault we're going to run, we're going to jump. How do we hurdle into this? If it's a kick, we're teaching the athlete how to step into the ball before we kick the ball. If it's a cricket shot, we're looking for how we hold the bat, how we stand and how we bring the bat backwards. If it's an ice skating skill, then we're looking at how do we set up that skill. So the brain follows this same pattern in almost everything that we do. Then it will think about the middle part of that skill, and it'll go, right how do I go from the start to the middle part and then obviously, how do I finish that skill before we end up with this blueprint?

So when we create consistency in performance, what we're looking for is to follow this blueprint. And again, as coaches we've talked about this a lot. We've talked about the necessity to understand and have a very detailed blueprint.

We also know that what our brain does is it creates these two red triggers. On this blueprint we've got here, these two red triggers. The first red trigger is the last part of control our brain has over this skill. So if we're going to be learning a front somersault in this essence, what we're looking at here is [let me get my colours] this number five. The point just before I lose the ground is my trip switch.

And if things aren't right, then that's the last stage I have control over this skill. So for our brain it's that circuit breaker, okay? And the other part is the end of the skill, when does it finish. Otherwise we're just thinking it's going to go on and on and on and on and on. When we don't trust a skill, when something goes wrong, whether that – and we're going to get into in a moment how us as coaches can understand this – whether it's fear based, so we've hurt ourselves and we don't want to do that skill again, or we've seen somebody else hurt themselves and we don't want to do that skill again. Or there's some kind of social pressure regarding competition or expectation about result and we're not comfortable. And then the brain steps in and takes part of that puzzle away, which is that first red trigger. And this is where we end up with bits that are missing and that mental block.

So the reason I wanted us first of all, to spend the first few minutes thinking about what's going on for the athlete is because us as coaches can have a really massive impact on how that process plays out and how we fix that part of the process. So if the essence is something's happened for the brain to step in and take back control, to use that circuit breaker if you like, then we've got to understand what caused that circuit breaker to be activated. If the circuit breaker is activated because of fear, so fear of actual consequence. So that could be I've done this skill in the past and I fell, or I've done this skill in the past, I hurt myself or I've seen somebody else do this skill and they got hurt. It doesn't matter whether you've experienced it or you've witnessed it. Part of the human brain's efficiency and effectiveness is that that's then an option for us. If they can get hurt, so can we. So that point that the brain's removed part of that blueprint is what's caused that mental block. How we fix that will depend on what caused that. So if it is a fear of they've done something, they've had an accident or they've witnessed an accident, then there's one path of a strategy us as coaches can help the athlete with.

The other side of what can happen here is fear of potential outcomes. So this is an anxiety driven version. So it's used with our imagination. So we've not actually witnessed it, we've not actually experienced it, but our imagination has created it. And this creation of what could go wrong has, again, multiple different layers of causation. And atypically when we're looking at mental blocks, you guys as well as I know there's a demographic that's way more susceptible to that and that's teenage females. And the reason teenage females are way more susceptible to a mental block is because of the way that their brain is processing their self preservation mechanism at that age. When we look at males, we look at boys of that same age bracket. So mid to late teens, their fear mechanism gets suppressed. It gets suppressed so that they can go out and they can impress females, essentially, or impress potential partners. What they're looking to do is put themselves at the top of the pecking order for selection. And if they have to suppress their fear mechanism to do that, that's why boys in particular, not only but in particular, boys will go and do stupid things like jumping off rocks and into the ocean, or doing jumps on their bikes, or that's where drinking and smoking comes in, because they believe it makes them look cooler. And what they're trying to do is impress a potential mate. So their fear mechanism gets suppressed, which means consequences of the brain stepping in and going, I'm going to take back control, gets reduced as well. Whereas a female in that same age demographic is their fear mechanism gets increased because what they're looking to do is for stability. They're more aware of what could happen to them, they're more aware of, if I do this, the consequence is, I'm likely to get hurt. But it's not only getting hurt. And again, this is where the age thing comes in. If it's not only about getting hurt, then it becomes more about socially embarrassed. As a competitor, going out and making a mistake can sometimes feel, and I use that word purposely, can sometimes feel worse than going out and actually getting hurt. If we go out and get hurt trying something, it's almost a badge of honour to wear that. But if we go out and we make a mistake and we let the team down, or we embarrass ourselves or our coaches, or even worse, our team of our peers, then that's often worse than the physical pain fear. So we got two causations here, right? So we've got the actual consequence of I've done something and it's hurt, or I've watched somebody do something and they've got hurt, versus this I've created this scenario in my head of all the worst case scenario things that could go wrong. So that's how a mental block occurs. We know that we've unpacked this several times in our athletes before. We've talked about it in this group before.

So, Sue, when you asked me, one, why does it happen? Two, is there something you're doing or not doing as a coach? Or three, is it something that's a culture within your organisation or your group? Let's work backwards. Is it something that's a culture within your group or your organisation? Short answer to that is, probably. And what I mean by that is not necessarily just your group or your organisation, it's the fact that humans are pack animals. And when we're working in a pack, a vast majority of our data comes from what the pack is experiencing, not only what we're experiencing. So we may have not seen something, experienced something, but if somebody in our pack, in our group is experiencing it, it then becomes an option for us too. So if we've got somebody in our group who gets a mental block, now, they may have experienced a fear outside of that group. They may have created this imagination from a whole different set of experiences outside of that group, but they brought it into that group. So therefore it becomes a selectable option for that group, which is an incredibly frustrating place for us as coaches, right? If we are doing everything to create a really good environment for our athletes to perform in, then something from the outside gets introduced into it, like a bacteria, really, like a virus, and it goes through that group, then that's incredibly frustrating. But we have to understand that we are a pack animal and a lot of our information does come from not only what we experience.

Now, I'm of an age group, and some of you in this group of those similar vintage to me, where back in our day when we were competing, we had what was called a village mindset. And what the village mindset was, was if it was in my village, then I experienced it or I was aware of it. So therefore it became a selectable option for us to experience. And growing up in the late 60s, 70s, and even into the early 80s, where we didn't read a great deal of newspapers, we had one or two newspapers. We had a local rag, a local newspaper, we had a national one that, depending upon where your family was from, was what you would read. So the level of information coming in, the credible data coming in, was restricted. We had the news, which, I don't know too many people of my age would ever really have sat down as a young athlete and watched the news because there were so many other things to be doing. So the potential for us to create a fear of potential consequence, use our imagination to create what could go wrong, was heavily reduced because the data coming in was heavily filtered.

Today athletes living on their mobile phones, their cell phones, their internet, have so much accessibility to potential fear. Now, I asked a group of female gymnasts I was working with and I said to them, when you think about your mental block that you've got – because that's what I was there for, I was there to work with them on a mental block – when you think about your mental block, was it something that you had seen? And all of them put their hand up and I said, okay, where did you see it? And in my era, in our era, we would have gone, somebody in our group did it and they got hurt, or it was me, I got hurt. Or I was at a competition and somebody got hurt, and we witnessed it. So it was almost like firsthand data collecting. When I quizzed these young girls on where they got their created mental block from, every single one of them said YouTube. And the scary thing from that is, not one of them had witnessed it, not one of them had put the thought process in to go, is that a credible threat in my gym?

So, Sue, when we're talking about, is that something that's a culture within our group, in our organisation, it's more a culture within our teens of today. So the teens of today are way more susceptible to mental blocks because of the data, the information that they're surfing through constantly. And so when I was working with this group of athletes, I said to them, okay, what I want you to do is I want you to pretend to be a coach. And I want you to tell me that if your athletes were experiencing a mental block based off of that YouTube information that you've grabbed, those people who have broken their legs have fallen off the apparatus, then what would you be telling them? And interestingly for me and for you as coaches, every single one of them come back and go, oh, that wouldn't happen to us because we've done X, Y and Z in preparation. We've got really good equipment, we've got really good coaches. So I said to them okay, so then why is it an issue? Why do you have a mental block based off of information that you've already told me is not credible? And there's not a logical thought process that they'd gone through, it just became an option.

So that's the first part of that, Sue, is, yes, absolutely, this generation of athletes are way more susceptible to mental blocks purely and simply because of their social media scrolling.

The second part of that question, or the first part you asked me was, is that something to do with you? And I'm going to make an assumption based off the information I know about you, Sue, and please correct me if I'm wrong here, however, I know you're a very high level, highly trained tumble coach, so I know you know how to teach these skills. And the athletes, you've got good success rate, you've got athletes doing really good skills. So I know you know what you need to know as a coach. The question I'm going to ask you straight off the bat is, do your athletes know what you know about the skills they're working on? So if they're working on a round off, backflip, whip, double back, for argument's sake, how much detail would they be able to convey to me about that skill? So if I pretended to them I know nothing about tumbling, and fortunately, I do. Obviously, as an ex-gymnast, I get this. But, Sue, if they were to tell me that that process that they're going through was incredibly detailed and I'm going to bring up that blueprint that we focused on before, out of those 16 parts on that blueprint, how many of those would your athletes be able to accurately describe to me? Does that mean that they don't know? Yeah, exactly. They don't know that. Their detail, if we go back to this one, is probably very sparse. So when we talked about the front somersault before, they run, they jump, they somersault, they land, so they've got those big gaps in between, right? Absolutely. Okay. Absolutely. So, Sue's asking the question, how much information is too much information? Really good question. And the answer to that is based basically, how well do you know your athletes? There are some athletes who are little and often, little amount of information, specific information, but little information. And if you know that that's one of your athletes, what they're looking for is, I don't need to know absolutely everything. I need to know what I need to know. Then the way that you communicate that as a coach is a really specific and targeted sniper version. So that's you looking at an athlete and going, well, you need to know how to run properly, you need to know how to take off, you need to know how to create the rotation and hold that rotation, and you need to know how to kick out and land. We're talking about a front somersault here. There are other athletes, and I'll put my hand up here because this was me as an athlete, who I want to know absolutely everything that you can possibly tell me about that skill. So I'm that athlete who needs to know every single part of these 16 steps. And if I know every single part of these 16 steps, I'm way more replicable and consistent. So my coach, Mitch Fenner, when we were working together, and again, this is back in the 70s and 80s, he learned very quickly that I wasn't just an annoying athlete who wanted more information. I needed that information. So when he spoke to me, he spoke to me way more technically than he spoke to other athletes. And it wasn't, at the time I didn't realise that, and to be honest with you I actually thought him and I had a unique dynamic, a unique relationship. But what I know now as a mental performance coach is, he just worked out that he needed to teach me all of these parts of the puzzle, not just the necessary parts. So in answer to your question, when's too much? I think I'm more prone these days to give more information than not enough information.

So when we think about correcting this for the athlete, often when I go in and I'm working with an athlete who's got a mental block, the first thing I'll ask them is, what's the skill you're working on? Where did this skill block emanate from? What was the skill? 98% of the time, it's going to come from a skill going backwards. And we know that we're only born with two primal fears, a fear of loud noises and the fear of falling backwards. So if we're in an acro-based sport, we're more susceptible to getting mental blocks, not because of who we are, but more because of what we do. And if we go backwards more frequently, then we're more likely to experience this mental block. So understanding that details with the athlete and I'm asking them, explain that skill to me, teach me how to do that skill. And what I'm looking for is, do they show me or do they describe to me this kind of version, this really detailed blueprint, these 16 steps? Or am I getting this simplified version? Am I getting the version where there's a great deal of empty space that has to be held together by emotion? Why is that really important? Because we know that the trigger for the brain to take control, take back control, take away that part of the skill, that circuit breaker is: if I don't feel confident. So if we've got more space in that skill that's filled up with emotion, then we've got more potential for the brain to step in with that circuit breaker and take away part of that skill. So if we aren't, as coaches, giving them the knowledge to understand how to do that skill, then we're creating an athlete and a skill base that's way more susceptible to mental blocks.

So, as a coach, our role is to teach the athlete what they need to know to control that skill at every stage. Again, speaking of Mitch, I think at the time I was a very frustrated athlete with Mitch, but I've come to realise he was an incredibly smart and intuitive coach. And when we were going through my learning phases as an athlete, he would often talk about the red bus theory and it was something that he threw around and we've talked about it in this group, right? Everybody in here has heard me talk about the red bus theory in this group. Well, the red bus theory was, if I get hit by a red bus tomorrow growing up in the UK, there's a lot of red buses. If I get hit by a red bus tomorrow, then it shouldn't stop your career. You should understand and know everything you need to know to maintain the trajectory you're on. And as coaches, I think we need to have that understanding. We need to understand that what we're doing is priming our athletes to be self sufficient. As coaches, this is our role, right? This is our role as coaches to prime and prep our athletes to be ready to compete under any circumstances.

So, Sue, the first two questions you asked me, is it you? Potentially, you're probably not given them all the details that they need in order to be able to perform. And is it your team or your culture or your environment, then? Most probably it's an environment that's feeding on itself. So as coaches, how do we fix this? So we've all been that there, right? And there's a whole mixture of you in this group. You're not all acro-based sports. You're not gymnasts or trampolinists or cheerleaders or tumblers. We've got a vast majority of different sports in this Main Arena group. So if all of you are experiencing mental blocks, if all of you are experiencing with your athletes this virus mindset of, if somebody gets it then everybody in the group is susceptible to it, then there's definitely an issue around the amount of information as a coach you're sharing. And what we've got to be really clear on is how much information am I sharing? Am I creating athletes who have a better immunity to mental blocks? Am I creating athletes who are more self sufficient so that if they do get exposed to somebody who has an accident, they're mentally robust enough to kind of go, yeah, that's not going to happen to me because I've done this, this, this in preparation, I understand that skill, or I know what they've done to get injured. That's not going to impact me because I don't do that.

So us creating more resilient athletes by teaching them the how, more detailed how, is a smart thing to do. So if us as coaches, we know that the more detail we can give the athlete, the more robust their resilience is to getting a mental block. If we know that if somebody introduces that into our group our first strategy is to understand the causation. Where's this come from? And if it's come from somebody having an accident in our group, let's say one of our group of ten athletes in our group, one of them does something that they end up getting injured. Then our role as a coach, even before anybody has a mental block, our role as a coach is to teach the athlete why that happened.

So I'm a gymnast. Let's talk about the most common demographic that gets mental blocks, female gymnasts. So let's say a gymnast falls off the beam. A female gymnast falls off the beam, she gets injured. As soon as that athlete is taken care of and either patched up and put back in the group, they're fine, or goes off to hospital, gets treated, whatever, that emotional and physical welfare that has to happen first has happened. Our first job as coaches is to sit that group down and go, okay, why did that happen? So Bethany fell off the beam. Why did Bethany fall off the beam? And understand if it's a technique that she was doing or wasn't doing that the athlete understands in the blueprint, the causation. Bethany was looking at her feet rather than looking at the end of the beam. So therefore that caused her to change her body shape. She missed her feet and didn't land back on the beam. Makes sense. There's logical sense, there's logical reasoning for the cause of the accident. And if there's logical reasoning for the cause of the accident, then there's logical assumption that we can correct or avoid that if it happens. So that's if something's happened in the group, there's a physical fear of actual consequence. It's happened either to us or to somebody in our group. Us as coaches, first strategy, once they're looked after, once they've been patched up or moved on, is to get the team to understand. Particularly, and I can't emphasise this enough, particularly if it's a backward motion skill. If it's a backward motion skill, our brain is already susceptible and primed to trigger that trip switch. So we've got to be way more robust about backward moving skills. Not only it's not exclusive, yet we're way more susceptible.

If what's been brought into the team isn't based off of something that's happened or been witnessed, but is somebody else's emotional struggles or challenges that's going on. They might be going through some challenges at home, there might be something going on at school, or more frequently, they might be going through puberty. And their emotional stability has been rocked and they're now bringing their fears in. We, as coaches, if that's the causation, what we need to do is get that athlete help straight away, get them to be able to cage and understand those rogue emotions. The physicality of someone actually falling off a beam is way, way easier to manage than a created imagination of what could go wrong. Because what we're looking to do is to put the genie back in the bottle from imagination. So, without a doubt, as a coach, you need to be able to recognise that and get somebody, whether it's me or somebody like me, into your team instantly to help that athlete before they infect other people. Now, it sounds awful, doesn't it? Like I'm coming and talking about this almost being an unclean athlete, but emotionally they are, because they've created a potential in that group where that can permeate very, very quickly, particularly if we're coming towards a competition where everybody's emotions and vulnerabilities are higher anyway. And that's atypically when we start to see these mental blocks get introduced that aren't from an actual incident, they're from an imagination. It's normally when people's emotions are way higher.

So as coaches, there's two really key things that we need to do every single time when we're talking about mental blocks, again, working backwards. Number one, make sure every single athlete really does understand the blueprint of their skills. The more they understand it, the more robust they are and unlikely they are to fall prey to gaps in their skill knowledge. If they're really young athletes, you've seen me before. Use chalk everywhere, right, and I get them to draw on the mats. I've got coaches around the world who get frustrated when I walk into the gym because I get out my chalks and I get young athletes to start drawing all over the mats or over the walls. And coaches get really frustrated because all these kids are drawing over their gyms. But it's a really good strategy for them to put into pictures, into visual what they can't articulate. So young athletes need to be able to see it. Older athletes are better at articulating it. So that's a great strategy and probably a good strategy for you to implement periodically in your training. Guys, whatever you're teaching, asking the athlete, okay, now teach me back. Teach me how to do that skill. And you'll get a really good idea of, do they have the full blueprint or have they got a really simplified, watered down version? If they've got a watered down version, then filling in those gaps becomes critical. The other thing to do is if something happens or you see somebody start to get a mental block, get in early. If it's an accident, technical. Correct the technique, make everybody understand the causation of that accident. If it's emotional, that's our imagination bringing it in, get somebody in to work with that athlete and probably address the whole group and explain to them why that athlete was having a mental block. And it's not necessarily anything that they need to be concerned about. It doesn't impact them. So does that make sense? I know I've gone on a real big unpacking of mental blocks, but us as coaches we have such a huge role in mental blocks. Good. Thanks again. I've got thumbs up coming in in the chat here, so everybody's on the same page. Does everybody see how relevant this is in your sport? So we've obviously talked about acro-based sports here, and yes, there's a lot of acro-based sports in this group, but there's also this vast group of different sports here. Excellent. Awesome.

I want you to ask yourself this question. When you've had athletes in your group, in your team, or even in your environment, how have you handled it in the past? Have you gone out and gone, I know you know how to do this. I know you've done it before. What's wrong with you? Just get through it, push through it. And I believe in you. You do this. And it sounds when I'm saying that, that it's really supportive. What you're doing is you're trying to nudge them in the right direction. But if I bring up this image, remember we talked about this image where the athlete has got this real block in front of me that they run in, they're jumping that middle, that trigger skill has been removed, that first red trigger. All the rest of the process is faded out because we can't think about the next part and we got this big block. And an athlete will often say to you, I know how to do it. I just can't do it. My body won't let me, and my brain won't let me do it. And as a coach, that's incredibly frustrating, right? We're standing there going, but I've seen you do it. I know you can do it. I've witnessed you. You did it yesterday. And we don't understand logically why they can't do it. Let me tell you, you standing there and saying, you stand there until you do it. I want you to push through it, isn't going to help. Because all you're doing is raising the emotion, which means what you're doing is permeating emotion throughout more of that skill. So instead of it being they won't take off to do the somersault anymore, it'd be they won't take the first step in the run. And when I get introduced to an athlete and I listen to the athlete and I listen to the coach, the athlete will turn around and say to me, it started when X and it's atypically a percentage of the way through the skill. But what I see often is the athlete won't even start the skill, won't start running. And that's us coaches, we've done that. We've introduced the doubt all the way back to the start of the process. So when we've gone through this exercise in the past, remember, when we think about we focus on something, we follow that blueprint and we get the outcome. Then if we introduce emotion into that, anything past that emotion gets clouded. So we focus on the skill we're going to do. That's our what, what are we going to do? We focus on our process. That's our how, how do we do that? Skill so that blueprint. And then we focus on the why? Why do you want to do that? We want to we want to complete the skill so that's that emotional buy in, that emotional ownership to that skill. So we know that this is how we do this. So we as coaches, we can introduce this big emotional cloud and we're going, halfway through this skill I know that you're baulking at this skill, you're not going backwards. Or you're doing a round off, but you won't do the backflip. Or you're going to step in and do the kick, but you clutch kick. So you're thinking, I can't do this kick. And us as coaches, by raising the emotion, by screaming and shouting or by socially embarrassing those athletes, by saying, you're not going to get off this apparatus until you do it, all we're going to do is increase the power of that emotion. We're going to bring it way closer to that focal point of, that skill is now completely encased in that negative emotion. This is where we create anxiety. And the vast majority of athletes that I encounter because I don't get called in when everything's perfect, you know that. I get called in when things aren't working. Just interestingly on this, I got called a couple of weeks ago by a coach who said to me, can you work with this athlete? It was a gymnast and this athlete's got a mental block. I've tried everything I know, but I can't fix it. When I spoke to the athlete I said to them, where do you find the block happens? And they said, well, initially it was when I went from the round off into the back flip or the back handspring, depending where you are in the world, and I'll do my round off and then I'd go to do my backflip and it just I didn't know how to do it. That's really normal, that's atypical. Then I said, okay, so where are we up to with the skill now? And they go, I said, can you show me and they'd stand there, and they'd stand there, and they'd stand there. I said, can you not take the first step? Can you not show me a round off? And they go, no, I can't. And I'm going, okay, so how long have you had this mental block? And they've gone, oh. And the coach says, oh, we're coming into our fourth year and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I'm thinking, why have we waited until three full years of having a mental block in a round off backflip? And I said to the coach, okay, so what strategies have you implemented? And they've gone, oh, we've tried absolutely everything from going back and supporting and padding every single one of them to just not allowing them to progress until they try it. And I said, okay, everything that you've tried has been an increase in emotion. And I said to this young athlete, draw the skill for me, because she was twelve. And I said, okay, draw this skill for me. And when she drew the skill, she drew the skill and there was only three different stick figures in that whole, what should have been a good 15 or 16 parts to that skill. So she had three standing there, hands on the floor, and then her finished standing. So literally the three key points, there was no way how she got, she had no cognitive understanding how she got from standing onto her hands and from her hands back onto her feet. And when I asked her to close her eyes and visualise, she couldn't. And she started getting quite upset. And it was us as a coach, her coach had introduced so much emotional anxiety around that skill by what they thought they were doing was supporting her and being emotionally supportive. But by adding the pressure, by adding that increased emotion, everything just permeated from that one point to the whole skill. So us as coaches have really got to understand that we've got to go back to the understanding of the skill. The blueprint, teach me, teach me how to do that skill. And if you teach me how to do that skill, then I know you understand that skill. And if you're teaching me that skill and I can hear gaps in that skill, then that's why. I can understand how to help you fix that. So forcing an athlete to do it, socially embarrassing an athlete, this frustrates me because I've seen coaches do it way too frequently. And a coach will turn around and say, I know they can do it. And I'm just trying to get them through the fear. And I'll say to them, we all know they can do it. They know they can do it. You socially embarrassing them is never going to get them through that skill, ever. What we've got to do to get them through that skill is remove all emotion. So that's really important. Empower the athlete, get them part of the process. So rather than I'm going to do this to you or for you, we're going to do this together, you're going to teach me, and we're going to build out that blueprint. As I say, don't just say, I know you can do it. You're going to increase the emotion. Ask them, what do you need to do in order to move to the next step? So if I use the example of the athlete recently, wouldn't even run into a round off, let alone the backflip or the somersault, this athlete was doing round off, backflip double axis somersault. So it's not like this was a new skill to her. And I said to her, okay, in order for you to run and show me a round off, what do you need to see or experience? And she said to me, I don't know. And I said, okay, where do you get the most fear? She goes, I don't think I know how to round off. I said, okay, where did we learn a round off from? She said a cartwheel. How did we learn a cartwheel? I learned a handstand. Okay, can you show me a handstand? Yeah, of course. So she showed me a handstand. Okay, when you went from a handstand to a cartwheel, how did you do that? And fortunately, I'd coached her coach, and she said, I'll get chalk and we draw where the foot goes, where the hands go. And so we followed the patterns. I said, okay, can you do that for me? Can you draw on the floor? And she did the cartwheel. I said, what's the difference between a cartwheel and a round off? She goes, oh, you just finished with your feet together. I said, can you show me that? And before long, by going through step by step, going all the way back and following the process, we end up doing a round off. I said okay. Cool. So to go from a round off into a backflip, what do you need to do? What do you need to see or experience? She goes, I need to know I can do the backflip, so how do we do that? And she went through the same process. Okay, I'll stand there, first of all, and we just tip. So we did the tipping exercise. Then I was on a rolly pad, and I'd go back onto my hands and back onto my feet, back onto my hands, back onto my feet, and we did that. And by the end of the session, we had done round offs and we'd done backflips. And I said to her, how do we connect a round off to the backflip? And she said to me, oh, instead of my feet being here, my feet go under there. I said, Excellent, let's do that. And she did a round off, her feet went under and she did a backflip and she went, I've done it. And we had, just by going through that process and reminding her of the blueprints, because it hadn't gone anywhere, it was still inside her brain, but what her brain had done had taken away bits of the puzzle. So we think about it like a domino set. Yeah. And when we tipped the first domino, because bits have been taken away, only went so far when we put those bits back in tip the first domino and it just happened.

So as coaches, we need to remove emotion. However, as coaches, we get frustrated, right? You're nodding your head. All of you are nodding your head at me. I get it. I understand it. I get frustrated too. I'm human. Believe it or not, I am human. So we get frustrated. What we've got to do in order to get that athlete past that block is remove all traces of emotion. And we can do that by those blueprints. We can do that by a disassociated visualisation, getting the athlete to see, even if it's not them, because they've got an emotional association. See somebody else do that skill and have that athlete be like a commentator. Walk me through what are they doing?

So, Sue, does that answer your question? So what we're going to do now is we're going to come off of mute and I want you as coaches to explain to me, one, have you had this in your sport, in your environment? Two, if you did, how did you approach it at the time? Three, did you fix the issue on your own or did you have to get someone like me in? And four, what would you have done different?

So, welcome back. Wasn't that an interesting insight into what we as coaches can do to better manage our athletes who have either got a mental block or in the early stages of creating a mental block? So some of the key things that I hope you took from that is, number one, the causation of the mental block is critical. So us as coaches need to really understand and tailor our responses to that mental block based on the causation. If the causation came from a fear of actual consequence, something that's actually happened to that athlete, then how we manage that is very different to having an athlete who's got a mental block that's come from a creation of emotion and imagination. So our approach as coaches need to be number one really understanding where is this mental block come from? Two, don't leave it too late. I think you heard it now there was an athlete who was into her fourth year of having a mental block. That's three years, eleven months, way too long. We don't ever need to let an athlete go beyond a few days before interjecting into that cause of the mental block and doing something to either fix it technically or bring somebody in to better manage the emotional resilience of that athlete. We understood that the brain is taking these parts of the puzzle away because of fear of either physical consequence or emotional consequence. So if that's the case, us as coaches need to remove all the emotion. What we need to be able to do is pragmatically go through that process with the athlete. The more emotive we become, the longer we extend the emotional consequences to that skill, so it starts to permeate through more parts of that skill. So these key areas as a coach, we've got to be really critical of ourselves. Get in early, don't wait for it to just fix itself, because it won't, and work out a way to best create a solution for that athlete.

I hope you got a lot from that sneak peek inside the Main Arena Coach. That Main Arena Coach programme is something that I run absolutely every week. We do a 90 minute training every single week. And these are coaches who are both high performance, they're elite, but they're also grassroots coaches as well in a variety of different sports. So if that's something that you feel you need to have in your coaching arsenal, then reach out to us at Smart Mind and we'll let you know when our next intake of Main Arena Coach programme is.

If you've got any questions about mental blocks or anything that you experienced in this episode of Brain In The Game again, reach out to us. Head on over to Smartmind.com and you can send us a message there. Or if you're listening to us on other social medias, like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, then hit us up with a message there and we're happy to answer any questions.

I hope you got a lot from this and until the next episode of Brain in the Game, train smart and enjoy the ride. My name's Dave Diggle and I'm your mental performance specialist.


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