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“Breaking Free”

The mental block is one of the most frustrating situations for both the athlete and the coach. Blocks are created by many factors. Sometimes a child who is young and has learned very quickly with no fear will realize, “Hey, I can get hurt.” When this happens, they will block. My youngest child learned up to a double full by the time she was six. When she was nine, she hurt her knee and it made her fearful until she realized that by conditioning specific areas, she was building up her body. Once she realized this, the fear of injury became less.

Sometimes fear is caused by lack of progression. In cheerleading it is imperative that we master every step of every skill before moving on to the next skill. Doing so will create consistency in our performance. If the skill is inconsistent, the athlete does not feel the skill the same each time, allowing fear to set in.

At other times, the athlete will fall, become nervous, and block.

Other causes of blocks include being forced to do one more repetition when fatigued and just being a very easily distracted athlete who needs to learn focusing techniques.

Many times there is simply too much outside stress in the athlete’s life. This can include school stress, such as too much pressure to perform well academically. It can include stress from a family conflict, such as a divorce, illness, or from the death of a family member. It can include stress as simple as coming back from a vacation, or a parent or coach pushing a skill too hard. Sometimes it is as simple as this is the only area over which the athlete retains any control in life and they exercise that control whether consciously or unconsciously.

The worst approach to the mental block is, “There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just stubborn” attitude. The coach says just do it and threatens the athlete with whatever can be held over his/her head. This in itself creates more stress and less production from the athlete’s body. Usually tears result, which helps no one. An athlete with a true mental block cannot force his/her body to perform the skill, so negative comments or humiliation are not effective. The key to unlocking this mental imprisonment is positive repetition with good technique, mind focus training, and positive reinforcement.

One way of handling the mental block in a group setting such as a cheerleading squad is to allow the athlete to do his/her tumbling separate from the group. This prevents intimidation by peers. If you have the luxury of having a person spot the athlete through the practice without the athlete feeling humiliated then the group may work well. It depends both on the team’s approach to its peers struggles and on the coach’s ability to maintain a positive attitude with that athlete. I have seen squads who were so positive with their teammate that group tumbling was a positive experience, but I have also seen it devastate an athlete. I believe one on one is much better with a younger child especially 6-8 years old. Mental blocks seem to become contagious with this age, whether driven by sympathy, empathy or just new awareness of fear.

An important aspect of coaching that will prevent some mental blocks and aid in their recovery is the ability of the coach to find and respect the learning style of each of his/her athletes. This means as coaches we need to be able to teach our skills in at least 7 different ways: linguistic, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The following is a short explanation of each learning style: linguistic (one who learns through saying, hearing, and seeing words); mathematical (one who learns through categorizing, classifying and working with patterns, one who is analytical); spatial (one who learns by seeing the whole picture, loves visual pictures); kinesthetic (one who learns by feel or touch, these are always on the move); rhythmic (one who learns by use of music, counting or clapping); interpersonal (one who learns by working with others, loves group learning, social butterflies); and intrapersonal (one who enjoys learning alone – one on one). Our goal as coaches should be to teach each athlete the way they can develop best and reach their maximum potential as athletes and as people. We are creating masterpieces one piece at a time, and we must make sure we are careful in our production not to create a flaw in the equipment. It takes ten positive comments to undo the effect of one negative comment. If athletes feel good about their abilities, they will exude confidence but if we tear down their self-esteem with negative, inappropriate comments, then we have athletes who feel they are unable to succeed. This opens them to the formation and/or continuation of a mind block.

Using the following steps to release the athlete from their block also gives them some very important tools to deal with any distraction or obstacle they will face as an adult; therefore, we are helping to develop life skills and good character traits for our athletes, which should be our primary focus in sports. We all have vulnerable areas in our life that could benefit from this system of training. When we can look at ourselves and say it is OK to be less than perfect or to have a flaw we will be a lot farther in our maturation process as a person, coach or athlete. Motivating athletes is an awesome responsibility and we must take it seriously. We must have a plan in our teaching and realize that the child is like a lump of clay. We create an athlete and a person from that lump and in many cases you as a coach are the only positive influence in that athlete’s life. Remember every obstacle can be overcome by proper training.

Learning to increase the efficiency of our minds to see and think about the skill we are performing allows our muscles to yield to the requests we ask of them. When we have a written and visual picture of what our body needs to do, talk positively and breed confidence in ourselves, this will strengthen our nervous system’s connection with the muscles in our body. The truth of the matter is if our body is strong and flexible in every area we have built a body that can always spring back This leaves the mind to do what it does best -move the body in a more powerful way. So conditioning the body from the inside out and training the mind to relax and focus are the most important prerequisites for unlocking this imprisonment we call a “block.”

The steps are as follows:

I call this system “Breaking Free.”

  1. Admit that it is acceptable to have a mental block and commit yourself to a system for unlocking this imprisonment of your mind.
  2. Remove all negative input and learn to understand the difference between tense and relaxed tone in your body. You may need to develop a ritual to do before your skills. Practice a relaxation technique by tightening and releasing each body part.
  3. Commit to a conditioning program at least three times a week. It must be a complete fitness program for all areas of the body: Cardio/Plyometric, Balance/Stability, Upper Body, Lower Body, and Core.
  4. Script each skill or series of skills using short action verbs to tell your body what to do. This trains your mind to focus on the skills, not on your fears.
  5. You need to do 10-20 repetitions of every skill you are blocking on three times a week. Stopping is not allowed. Complete each series whether connected or not. Otherwise, you will train yourself to stop. Make sure technique is good on each skill. You may spot, or if the athlete will do the skill somewhere by herself with good technique, that is fine also.
  6. Visualize 10-20 times a night the skills you are blocking on before falling asleep using the words from your scripting. Do this each night.
  7. Journaling- You should get a notebook and record your goals (1 or 2 weeks at a time) and a plan on how to reach these goals. In addition to your goals, you should keep a record of your conditioning and daily thoughts. Depending on how severe the block is you could even set a daily goal. Make all goals reasonable, such as: Perform a skill 3 times without stopping.
  8. Put a box somewhere that you pass frequently. Put paper and pen beside the box. Every time you pass the box you should write something positive about your tumbling and about yourself. This has even improved school work in several cases.
  9. The coach, parent and athlete need to agree on a focus word like “stop” so that when the athlete hears the word he/she knows to bring his/her mind back into focus. This can be used at school, home, practice, or competition. You can also have some focal thoughts to pull your mind back into focus like “Relax,” “I am able to do this,” “No big deal, let’s go.” When you are able to control your emotions, your mind is able to direct.

These are examples of application of this system I have experienced.

I have worked with many athletes the last 39 years. In every case where I used this system and the athlete committed to it, it has worked. There are many quitters out there who won’t commit to anything, but those that do will find success.

I coached one girl who used this system. She would do nothing but a round off for 3 years. We worked for approximately 8 months almost daily. She now deals with her fears on a daily basis, but tumbles extremely well, including double full, Arabians, etc.

I coached one girl who wanted to make high school cheerleader. She had to perform a back handspring and a round off back handspring in order to make the team. It took her approximately 6 weeks to make complete recovery from her block. Her mother said her school work even improved.

I have used this system with my own children when we get back from vacations by bringing them into the gym before practice resumes and allowing them to work through their anxiety over tumbling skills.

This system can be a valuable tool in dealing with anxieties an athlete feels in many areas of his/ her life. I encourage you to use it freely and consistently in every area of cheerleading.

Mean Parents: Just Say "NO"


Now a days we all hear about teenage bullying; bullying in school, bullying in sports, bullying in social media.  Kids are being bullied because they are gay, or because they aren’t cool, because they stand out or because they stand up.  Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable.  I think as an adult we are all repulsed and appalled when we hear a story about bullying.  How could someone treat another person that way? What is wrong with them?  Where did they learn this?  Bullying makes me sick to my stomach.  As a parent of two small girls it makes me very sad to think that some day someone may tease them or call them names because they are too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, because they wear glasses, or because they don’t wear cool enough clothes.  While all of this childhood bullying makes me want to vomit, do you know what makes me even more angry?  Adult bullying.

I’ve seen it so many times in various ways.  I like to think of myself as a very strong person. I don’t let a lot bother me and in most cases really care less if someone likes me or not.  I am going to share a story with you that hurt me horribly.  I lost sleep, lost “friends”, and was a very sad, very miserable person.  I am not saying that I was bullied.  I am simply sharing a story that may make people think twice before they say or do something or to let someone else know they aren't alone.  

This blog may make some of you angry.  You may say that I am no better than them for writing this.  I am not writing it to shame anyone or get even.  If you feel that way- this blog isn’t for you.  I am writing this blog for the mom that is sitting in the corner of the lobby hoping not to be noticed.  I am writing this blog for the mom that goes home after practice and cries herself to sleep.  I am writing this blog for the mom whose husband tells her “just quit that damn gym” but she knows she can’t because her child is happy there.   I am writing this blog for the mom who is stressed before practice, or the thought of anything to do with cheer, because she doesn’t know what to expect.  I am writing this blog for the outsider mom that is outnumbered and alone; the mom who can’t do anything right.

Let me preface this story with a few things.  When this happened to me this was my very first season with cheerleading.  I wasn’t a cheerleader nor did I ever want to be.  This was the first season that any of our kids had participated in All Star cheer.  All of us moms stayed in the lobby for every practice.  We live in a small town and most of us knew each other prior to cheerleading. A lot of us had even gone to highschool together.  Our age ranged from 30-40 years old.  That being said here is the story.

There were two groups of parents on our team and there was a pretty clear divide.  It wasn’t really groups, it was two moms, and bullying2then the rest of the parents.  While we were all sociable and nice enough to each other's faces, there was quite a bit of backstabbing going on.  I was not innocent of this.  I participated in the backstabbing and comments; not my proudest moment.  We were a group of parents with very strong personalities that were very similar. Those personalities tended to collide.  

It got to the point that during practice all of the moms would be on one side of the very small lobby, and the two moms that no one liked were by themselves on the other side.  While I wasn’t crazy about those moms, I couldn’t stand the tension and started sitting by them during practice.  During one of those practices one of moms on the other side said to me, “are you to good to sit by us or do you have new friends now?”  This comment took me right back to highschool.  Like I said before, I didn’t really care what people thought of me so I continued to sit by the two moms that the others didn’t like.  

We were nearing the end of the season and the tension between the moms was unbearable.  It was miserable going to practice.  The stress was wearing on me like nothing I had ever felt.  It was to the point that I had to take a Xanax before going to the gym.  At the end of the season things came to a head.  Long story short I was told, by the same mom with the friend comment, that most of the moms on the team really didn’t care for me. While I understand that I have the type of personality that you either love or hate, I was so shocked by this statement that she could have knocked me over with a feather.  I didn’t see this coming.  I didn’t understand if I was doing things so wrong why someone didn’t tell me so I could correct them.  Some of these women I had known for years. Some were my 'friends' prior to cheerleading.  If these people were my friends, why hadn’t they called me or confronted me before this?  These were the same women that claimed they liked to tell it like it is.  Instead of telling me, they banded together like mean teenagers, talked about me behind my back and started treating me like I had the plague.  

Even though the season was over they didn’t let it go.  They wrote some very hurtful things about me on social media sites and off mean momscourse they wrote it in a passive aggressive way.  One of them (who I really considered a good friend) made up a lie, told it to everyone, and then wrote a very hurtful post about me (without mentioning my name of course) while the others posted mean comments, nicknames, and laughed. These are the same women that claim they hate drama.  I’m not one to keep my mouth shut so I did reply with my own passive aggressive post.  I realize that makes me just as immature as these women, but I didn’t care.

After about a week it all died down and everyone moved on.  I learned some very valuable lessons about these people. I am glad that I learned who they really are.  I am glad that they are no longer in my life.  I am glad that I can look back at their actions when I want to post a vague, snarky remark on Facebook.  They taught me that actions speak louder than words.  They taught me that some people are only happy when they are hurting other people.  They taught me that some people are happy to always be the mean girl. They made me look at myself and change some things that I didn’t like about myself.   They taught me to think before I speak.  

What I am asking of you is- please don’t be the mean mom.  We can’t all be best friends and there will always be someone that is annoying or different.  If everyone is talking about someone, and you don’t feel comfortable standing up for them, then step away.  Don’t be a part of that.  Think about what you would tell your child if they were in that situation.  If you are the one that everyone is avoiding or being cruel to I’m sorry.  I know that it hurts and makes you feel horrible.  Just know that you are better off not being a part of that mean group.  If people are being mean to you they are not your friend.  They’re just plain old mean moms!

How to be the Perfect Cheer Parent By: Shelby C. Elmore

As parents, we all want the very best for our children, and maybe sometimes that is a weakness. As parents of athletes, it is just that weakness that makes us do some very radical things at times. In competitive cheerleading, as in any other competitive sport, there are parents out there who gossip or push their kids too hard, and they just don’t realize the damage they cause. The main reason we should be encouraging our children to get involved in cheerleading is for our children to have fun while learning life’s lessons. Here is a bit of advice to parents of new cheerleaders (or any other competitive sport for that matter).

1. Never gossip about anyone, not a parent, not a team member, not a coach, not a rival, not anyone. If you do this, more people than you know will hear about it, and more than you know will be said about you.

2. Never criticize a coach’s decision. That coach is there to coach; that is what he or she has been trained and conditioned to do. Even if you were a national champion cheerleader in high school, chances are that the coach has already considered other options and yours are not going to matter if you are walking around the gym babbling about how stupid it was to put so and so as a flyer and not your child. If you are experienced and good at cheerleading, ask to volunteer to help your squad out. Suggestions are always helpful, but mouthing off about it to all the parents isn’t going to get you very far.

3. Never try to take over something you are not in charge of. For example, a parent works so hard on arranging a fundraiser, and another parent comes in and takes all of the credit. This is not appropriate parent behavior.

4. If your child isn’t complaining, then you shouldn’t be. Cheerleading is a very demanding sport, financially, mentally, and physically. Remember that although they are exhausted and upset about something that happened at practice, most likely they don’t want to quit the team because of it. This is hard work… keep that in mind.

5. Make sure that it’s your child’s idea to cheer, not yours. So many girls have been pushed into this sport at an early age, not because they wanted to, but because their parents were on a squad or wanted to be on a squad, or a friend’s child is on a squad. The decision is one that is ultimately the parents, since they are financing the venture and doing fundraising, but it is the child who has to have the desire to excel at the sport.

Finally, remember to support the team, its coach, and its supporters. After all, in all sports you will be exposed to parents who do not adhere to these suggestions, but if a team doesn’t stick behind its coach, it will be doomed to failure.

Some Vince Lombardi

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