Is your head holding you back in the gym?

Fear and blocks are common for gymnasts. How you handle them determines how fast you’ll move through them!

For almost every gymnast, fear and the sudden and “mysterious” inability to do skills that were once “easy” are a normal and regular part of your gymnastics career. Fear can be triggered by learning new skills, experiencing a scary close call, fall, or an injury, or by seeing one of your teammates fall and get hurt. Fear is often one of the biggest mental challenges facing the gymnast, their coach, and the parents.

Becoming a mentally tough gymnast means that you need to learn how to change your relationship with fear in the gym. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you’re mentally weak! It’s not the enemy! In fact, fear keeps you safe in the gym and is frequently a signal to your brain that your body may not yet be ready to safely attempt a skill. (Perhaps you lack the flexibility, spatial awareness, or timing to accomplish it). Fear is also a positive indication that you’re moving up to the next level in this sport. Every time you attempt a new skill or otherwise step outside of your comfort zone, fear will be there to greet you.

However, fear will almost always pop up after anything scary happens and when it does, it can temporarily knock your trained performance skills offline. So what do you do about this or any kind of fear in the gym? Most coaches, parents, and even gymnasts believe that the athlete must push themselves towards their fear in order to overcome it. Let me let you in on a slightly obvious secret here! This is far easier said than done!

Strategies for overcoming fears and regaining lost skills

  1. Understand that fears are normal. There is nothing wrong with you for being too scared to go.
  2. How YOU respond to your fears and lost skills will determine how fast or slow you move through them.
  3. Understand that you’ve lost your skills because you feel unsafe inside (even if you don’t feel afraid!) and your nervous system is instinctively protecting you by freezing.
  4. Be patient and forgiving when you can’t get yourself to go.
  5. Take steps to help yourself feel safer as you work on the lost skill: Get a spot, pile mats up, do lead-up skills, etc.
  6. Don’t put time deadlines on yourself. They will only increase your fear and make your block worse.

Often many performance fears and blocks in the gym are fed by past physically and/or emotionally upsetting events.

What causes the gymnast to lose skills? All too often, gymnasts who mysteriously lose their skills can’t simply get themselves to “just go for it!” They tell me, “No matter what I try, I can’t get myself to go!” or “Something in the back of my mind is stopping me!”

You get lost in the middle of a skill, get the wind knocked out of you, and scare yourself badly and when that happens, your nervous system and body automatically memorize everything about this upsetting event and this memory will stay with you (mostly out of awareness) for months or more, long after the upsetting event has been forgotten. You may not see a block right away, but at some point, there’s a “trigger event.” The gymnast has another scary fall or is in some way reminded of the past upset. And it’s these old past upsets that ultimately end up leaving the gymnast feeling unsafe inside and instinctively triggering the freeze response: The gymnast can’t get him/herself to go for it!

The good news here is that with a little training and practice, you can learn to systematically recognize and work through your fears, regain your skills and develop mental toughness.

This is the process that I teach gymnasts, along with how to develop the other mental toughness skills which will help them take their performance to the next level.

Remember, your physical skills and talents as a gymnast are always limited by your mental skills and ability to deal with the fear. Don’t leave this all-important part of your training to chance.

As a sports performance consultant, Dr. G works with gymnasts from around the world, from Olympians on down, specializing in helping them overcome fears and blocks and perform to their potential. Dr. G is a USA Gymnastics National Congress Clinician and presents at clubs around the US, training parents, gymnasts and their coaches. He is the co-author of This Is Your Brain On Sports: Beating Blocks, Slumps and Performance Anxiety For Good! His audio mental training program, Gymnastics With The Competitive Edge. is specifically-designed to help gymnasts overcome performance fears & blocks.

  • Thank you for all your work with [my daughter]. We are so happy that she is working with you. We can see a change in her for sure. It really helps, and I know this will be a lasting relationship with our family. We really think you are great. We are so happy to have found you.

    Parent 12-year-old gymnast, New York
  • My daughter has not put down Sticking It since it arrived! She continues to say, "That's me mom. This Dr. G guy gets me!" She looks forward to going to practice and is actually having fun again!. They have helped my daughter tremendously with her fears and balking!

    A relieved mom Florida
  • My 11-year-old gymnast started having some serious fear issues on the beam and bars and she started losing confidence. She began seeing Sara and it was incredible to watch her start to blossom again!  She gradually began making strides in her “fear” areas and to really enjoy her time in the gym again. 

    Julie Parent of an 11-year-old gymnast, Massachusetts
  • Sara is a priceless addition to our staff at Hampshire Gymnastics. She helps gymnasts work through their fears on beam and floor. She has also helped our girls recognize and diffuse the nervousness and anxiety during competitions and find more confidence and joy in gym and meets!

    Elizabeth Coach, Hampshire Gymnastics, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • I have been using your MP3's to help one of my 10 year old gymnasts overcome her fear of the high bar. She had not been able to jump and even hold on to the high bar. She is able to now able to complete her routine The whole gym is inspired. Thanks again

    Maria Gymnasitcs Coach
  • I have a 10-year-old gymnast and your CD program is fantastic. She has always struggled with her fears.My kid actually comes home from practice happy now since she's been listening. With gratitude.

    Dina New Jersey
  • My son who is a level 6 gymnast and he was  blocked on his round off back handspring back tuck and was starting to crumble at meets. I found your CD series and I saw a weight lifted off of his shoulders. This past weekend, I saw a confidence in him that I have never seen!

    JR Indiana
  • My daughter is an 11 year old competitive gymnast and facing some mental blocks on her back tumbling, skills she has performed for years. After gym today she mentioned that she use to feel like just giving up and quitting. I'm so glad I found your CD's.  She is back to her old self again!

    Roxanne Texas
  • Your book helped me keep my head on straight at meets. I am off to college this year on a gymnastics scholarship and I can say that one of the reasons for this is the mental toughness skills I learned in Sticking It that I have been using for the last 7 years! I'm so grateful to you for this book.

    Lauren F Washington
  • Yesterday, my daughter did her first back handspring since "losing" it this summer. Today, she did her first round off, back handspring connection since "losing" it this past spring. Both accomplishments literally brought her to shaking tears. I can't tell you what this has done for her!

    A Happy and Relieved Parent
  • When I reached out to you, my daughter was done with gymnastics. She did not feel she would ever do her skills again. She was tired of being yelled at and tired of crying each day at the gym. Yesterday she had her Virginia State meet and she placed 4th on floor! Thank you for your CD's!

    Sonia Virginia
  • Sara is an expert in her field! The progress we’ve seen in our gymnasts is absolutely amazing! We have a few gymnasts with fear issues, and their progress has been phenomenal. Sara is the “missing link” that is making everything gel together...not just with the athletes, but the coaches too.

    Tayla Owner, Hampshire Gymnastics, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • My daughter had been struggling with a mental block in gymnastics for years. Sara was able to get my shy, quiet daughter out of her shell to engage and figure out the reasons she was having anxiety and getting stuck. She goes to practice now free of worry and excited...!

    Sasha Parent of an 11-year-old gymnast, New York
  • Dr. G! Ellie won State Champion on beam! She said it was your book Sticking It and the CDs! She told me that she imagined herself at her home gym as she competed and was calm and composed! Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!

    Alex New York
  • I TRULY appreciate your materials. They have helped my daughter tremendously with her fears and balking! I can't begin to tell you how grateful we are for your help! I now have a daughter who smiles after gym practice. Hadn't seen that in a long time!

    Nancy California
  • I am a former Olympic-level gymnast and wanted you to know that without Gymnastics With The Competitive Edge. I'm not sure I would have been able to hit when the pressure was on. You helped me develop the reputation as the most consistent and trustworthy team member!

    Mary Beth Arnold 1995 World Championships Bronze Medalist
  • My eldest daughter used your gym CD's while she was overcoming fear as a younger gymnast.  Just thought you'd  like to know that one of the little girls asking you for help a years ago is now training to compete as an elite and hoping to compete internationally. We are so very grateful to you!

    John California
  • Talk about giving my gymnasts a healthy attitude to take to their meets. Your mental toughness book has done just that and given my gymnasts an edge. My kids are more confident and self-assured when they compete and I know it's because of the mental training sessions we run using your book.

    Ricky G Alabama
  • Your fears & block cd's have turned my kids around in days! The concentration and championship thinking cd has really helped my kids break away from the break and get those extra tenths. They go to meets with a healthy attitude and an extra level of confidence.

    RG gymnastics coach
  • This had been such a painful time for my husband and I as we watched our daughter be sad and ask "why" she couldn't do the skills that use to. We didn't have the answers until we got your material. My daughter is gradually gaining in mental toughness, all thanks to your program!

    Michelle Ohio
  • Sarah would do well in practice and then fall apart at meets. She was hoping to secure a full scholarship to a Division I school when she started working with your gym set. Sarah qualified for Nationals and it earned her a full ride to her first choice school. We are forever grateful!

    Kathleen Illinois


HOW SOME GYMNASTICS COACHES BADLY MISHANDLE THEIR ATHLETES’ FEARS She was afraid of her back handspring on beam and so kept balking, unable to get herself to go for the skill. First the coach responded with impatience and disgust, as if this 10-year-old was deliberately being oppositional. When that didn…

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