Have you ever heard the saying: “gymnastics is 80% a psychological game and 20% skill”?
I’m guessing you probably have, or at least something similar.
While I wouldn’t disagree, it should be noted that this saying does not just apply to gymnastics, I’d say it is relevant to most aspects of life. Assuming this is the case, and coaches truly believed it, why do they not allow time within their gymnastics training program to work on the mental muscle power of their gymnasts?
It could be argued that logically, if gymnastics was 80% a mental game, then 80% of training time should be spent focusing on just that.
That may sound ridiculous, after all, it would be unrealistic to spend 80% of the training session on non-physical/technical activities. But here’s the point: coaches understand the importance of developing mental skills in their gymnasts, yet seldom put into action the strategies needed to build them.
Gymnastics clubs often host specific interventions every 6 months, where they invite in a sports physiologist. The question is, how can a visit once or twice a year impact the 80% ratio we attribute the mental side of the sport to?
I’m no psychologist, but I don’t need a degree or PhD to understand the important role emotional intelligence, mental resilience, mindfulness or coping strategies, to name just a few, have on gymnast performance.
Bringing in a sports psychologist is not really necessary (although could be a good option), instead, think about allocating a dedicated time in the weekly or monthly schedule to devote to building mental muscle. Great coaches will have those tools in their armoury.
I’ve attended several first aid training courses, as well as the recommended refresher every two years or so. Despite all this training, if presented with a gymnast with a broken arm or nose I’d have difficulty remembering ‘procedure’ even a few months after taking the course.
Fortunately, I’m not called upon to deliver emergency aid on a daily basis, the downside is it’s easily forgotten. Which brings me back to mental training sessions and interventions which are held only once or twice a year.
The mind, like other muscles, can be trained to improve, and just like every other muscle, it needs frequent training in order to do just that.
Drip feeding mental messages through the use of frequent interventions, with further reinforcing from a coach echoing the same messages during training, is a good way to make sure gymnasts have been proactively prepared for the many challenges gymnastics throws at them OR will just optimise their mindset for performance.
Article by Nick Ruddock, Gymnastics Club Manager’s resident coaching expert and ex GB National Coach.