The mental game of gymnastics and relationships

Gymnastics performance and relationships both require mental mettle. We make ourselves anxious by how we think, and like athletes, most of us think about results. Photo: dearbarbie

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2012 – The mental discipline that gymnasts demonstrate is amazing. They have a fair amount of downtime waiting for their turn on an event, and that is when anxious thoughts easily erupt.

It takes guts to put so much time and training on the line, especially a line that is stretched around the world. That goes for those who take home Olympic medals and those who don’t.

The source of most athletic performance glitches is anxiety. No athlete wants to fail and let themselves, the coaches, and teammates down. After all the training, athletes naturally want to shine. That is why many turn to sport psychologists or counselors for help. Managing anxiety is the crux of sport psychology. 

Managing anxiety is a crux of non-sport mental health counseling as well. Not all anxiety is performance anxiety though, or is it? This question might prompt someone to stop and think about our everyday fears in terms of performance, particularly our fears of opening up to one another. 

Anything we share is a presentation of ourself. Our emotions, feelings, opinions, ideas, likes and dislikes, are fodder for failure, rejection, or ridicule if we are honest about them. So, rather than risk being authentic we perform a routine of our self in front of others, or try to. 

Sometimes our fears are owed to actual danger but much of our anxiety comes from self-talk, or self-thought. People have inner conversations with themselves at the rate of about 200 words per minute. The self-talk is frequently, sometimes predominantly, critical and anxiety producing.

Performance anxiety needs mental management. We make ourselves anxious by how we think, and like athletes, most of us think about results. Much of the emotional pain people suffer daily is worry over results, and the consequences of results.

For some people, human interaction is a balance beam and just thinking about being on it is terrifying. If one toe is wiggled the wrong way down you go, so why put yourself out there? The performance is everything for others, and it typically goes well until after the dismount. Then comes the anxiety of believing they have nothing else to offer.

It is unfortunate that performance anxiety extends to our relationships, even our close ones. It takes guts to go with our true thoughts, feelings, and actions knowing not everyone will approve. This is especially true when relying on others for a sense of self worth.

Though it renders us vulnerable to be with people minus our habitual pretense, walls, aggression, glitz, or manipulation, it brings a sense of relief. The payoff of openness is enjoying an ease or lightness of being; the weight of old coping strategies is gone.

It is possible for us to become more authentic in our communications. Speaking from counseling experience, you have to change the way you relate to people by working on it in a relationship, as it requires practice. Most people will not risk practicing unless they feel safe and supported and is why many people go to individual or group therapy.

The Most Important Paragraph

Parents can help their children feel comfortable communicating authentically by consistently treating the children’s thoughts and feelings with respect. It’s not necessary to understand or agree, but always respect them. The children will learn they are worthy human beings, and also how to treat their parents.  



Nelander, John. Sports psychologist: Anxiety often root of performance problems.



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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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