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Overcoming Mental Blocks is a Hurdle We All Have to Clear

By: , August 24, 2021, 9:12 am

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles is considered the greatest of all time and owns the resume to prove it. 

The 24-year old’s commitment and adoration for the sport awarded her with 32 jaw-dropping Olympic and World Championship medals. Four of those Olympic medals are plated in gold, while one is encased in bronze.

That bronze medal was draped around the world’s greatest gymnast for her brilliant performance on the balance beams. A performance that displayed Biles’ resilience after withdrawing from the uneven bars and vault finals due to a life-threatening mental block.

That medal, according to Biles, is the most meaningful of them all.

“[The bronze] means more than all the golds because I’ve been through so much the last five years and the last week while I’ve even been here; it was just… it was very emotional,” the gymnast said on NBC’s TODAY Show

Biles masterfully endured the heavy load of her teammates and nation’s expectations while she prepared for Tokyo. Podium training and prelims came effortlessly; however, the weight was crushing at practice the following day.

“I went to do a floor pass, and I just got lost in the air. And I was like, okay, it was a fluke, and I didn’t do anymore.” Biles told NBC’s Mike Tirico. “The next day, we had a little practice before the team final. And I was like, Okay, well, I have to do that again because that was really weird; it seemed off. And then I could not get a sense of where I was in the air.”

The added pressures and ongoing mental health issues festered into a bad case of the twisties. 

In gymnastics, the twisties are a sudden loss of spatial awareness in the air during a routine. Being out of tune with your performance can result in unintentional flips or twists that can cause the gymnast to land improperly, risking severe injury, and in some cases, death.

Dr. Jason Novetsky, a Sport & Performance Psychology Coach at the Champion Mindset Group, has guided several athletes to overcome mental blocks that inhibited peak performance.

When asked about Simone Biles’ battle, Dr. Novetsky compared and amplified the severity of her performance issues to cases athletes sometimes face in other sports.  

“Like a catcher that can’t throw a ball back to the pitcher or a golfer that can’t swing right, they don’t understand the connection between the mind and the body and equipment. But with Biles, it’s certainly life-threatening. If she loses where she is in the middle of a twist or the air, she could die,” shared the mental toughness coach. 

“So that’s certainly more significant than a golfer hitting a bad shot or a catcher making a bad throw; no one’s going to get hurt. But with her, she could have significant bodily injury. So I could understand and agree with the fact that she had to pull back until she figured it out.”

Dr. Novetsky uses researched-based sport psychology techniques to coach athletes and teams on committing to several aspects of success. For example, aligning with a set purpose, achieve process-oriented goals, create a positive identity, mental preparation, sustain focus, recover from and overcome adversity so they can compete “in the moment” with confidence. 

With athletes struggling to complete a particular skill, the Sports Psychologist focuses on defining the added pressure.

“Pressure is essentially three things; you’re doing something really important to you that you care about. Number two, the outcomes, the results are unknown. There are so many variables and uncontrollables,” said Dr. Novetsky.

“And three, you’re going to be evaluated or judged. And that’s exactly what Simone Biles is going through. So she’s going to be judged based on things that are outside of her control but are important to her.”

When it comes to pressure, Dr. Novetsky shares that you can choose to focus on the pressure in one of two ways. Either as a threat to your well-being, ego, future, and goals. Or, if you work on it and focus on what you can control, you can see pressure as a challenge and an opportunity. 

The latter is precisely what Simone Biles chose to do by putting work in behind the scenes to bounce back at the beam. For the most decorated gymnast of all time, this experience is why bronze is the new gold.

If you or an athlete you know is looking to increase their confidence during performance, schedule a consultation with Dr. Jason Novetsky at the Champion Mindset Group Sport and Performance Psychology Coaching