I got a letter from a reader asking how I ‘get out of my head’ when it’s time to perform. I wanted to share my reply with you as this is not an isolated issue. If someone is asking me this question, there are many more out there who have had the same question…
Hi! I’ve come here googling “how to let go, flow, gymnastics”, seriously. I’m a 22 year old gymnast, who started from zero skill, at 21. Because of that, and of my personality (I love being in control, and plan everything), I have struggles when I have to “let go” doing the skills (and also in everyday life, I have the tendency to be structured). My coach says I could be so much better and learning a lot of new skills if I learn to let go and “jump” into things. For example, when Im doing a hurdle (into roundoff or front handspring) I get stuck into the ground and cut the flight. I don’t know if I explained myself to you, but I would like to know how I could learn to let go.
Good for you for starting gymnastics at age 21! I know it’s not “normal” for adults like us to do something like gymnastics, so I love connecting and share with others who do the sport as adults. One thing that really helped me get over any anxiousness I had about jumping into things (like vault, which freaked me out to no end) was to start reminding myself that I chose this and I can always un-choose it. No one is forcing me to do anything.
It was liberating to realize that since I chose to do this sport, that I can act like I chose it. Rather than feeling like I have to do something I’m not ready for, I can remind myself I am in the drivers’ seat choosing what skills to work on, and how far to push the effort. And that I can always check in with myself and decide to change course. For me, this opens up the freedom to feel happy about fully committing to the present moment, and trusting that the next thing that is supposed to happen, will. The floor will be there for your hands to hit it. The beam will be there and your feet will find it.
Another trick that seems to always make the skill I’m about to do easier and go better is when my coach reminds me to ‘just play.’ I’ll be up on beam or bars and struggling with a skill, and if he says ‘just play’, I instantly relax, realizing that I’d been holding my breath a little bit. You still want tightness in the appropriate areas of your body to perform the skill you’re doing, but that tension in the diaphragm you get when you’re trying to control everything, makes it hard to sync up your movements the way you need to for gymnastics skills to go well. Plus, it raises your stress response…no bueno. So if he’s not around to remind me, I’ll exhale and say to myself ‘PLAY’ and I try to make my movements just like they’d be if I were playing around on the jungle gym at the playground. And I always seem to do better after reminding myself of that.
I hope this helps you out, or at least, gets you thinking about other things that can help you let go and fly. 🙂