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Mental Muscle

nick ruddock Nov 25, 2016

Somebody said to me the other day, ‘gymnastics is 80% a psychological game, and 20% skill.’

It isn’t the first time i’ve heard that saying, or at least something similar.

I don’t disagree, and it’s not just gymnastics where that can be applied, it’s pretty relevant to most aspects of life.

But if that is the case, and coaches truly believed it, why do they not allocate time within the training program to work on the mental muscle power of their athletes?

Logic would suggest that if gymnastics was 80% a mental game, then 80% of training time would be spent focusing on just that.

You probably think i’m being ridiculous now, and in some respects I am, for good reason. It would be impractical to spend 80% of training time on non physical/technical activities, but the point is clear; coaches understand the importance of mental skill development for their athletes, yet rarely implement the strategies to build them.

Many clubs host specific interventions within their season and invite a sport physiologist in every 6 months, but how does once or twice a year stack up against the 80% ratio we attribute the mental side of the sport to?

I’m no psychologist, but it doesn’t require a degree or phd to respect the important role that emotional intelligence, mental resilience, mindfulness or coping strategies would have on athlete performance to name just a few.

I’m not suggesting that a sport psychologist is even necessary (although could be a good option), just dedicated time in the weekly or monthly schedule which is devoted to building mental muscle. Great coaches will have those tools in their armoury.

I’ve been on several first aid training courses, and the recommended refresher every two years or so, but give me an athlete with a broken arm or nose and i’d struggle to remember ‘protocol’ even a few months after taking the course. I (fortunately) don’t need to deliver emergency aid on a daily basis, but as a result of that it’s easily forgotten. Just like 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 these messages throughout frequent interventions, further reinforced by a coach echoing the same messages in training is a great way to ensure the athlete has proactively been prepared for the many challenges gymnastics throws at them OR will just optimise their mindset for performance.

What are you doing to build the emotional fitness of your athletes?

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