We have all been there. You have spent weeks working on the new tumbling skill, and you’re finally able to throw it. The first day you hit it, you are landing it on a dime. You don’t step, you don’t stumble: your skill is perfect. For the next several weeks it’s the same thing – you show off the skill of practice, and your coach puts it in your routine. Then suddenly, for no reason that you can figure out, you cannot land it for anything. Every time you throw your new skill, you put your hands down or your knees bend as you land and you have to step to recover.

Mental blocks are common in tumbling

Cheerleaders at all tumbling skill levels deal with mental blocks. That is one of the issues with tumbling. It is as much about your mental ability to handle a skill as it is your physical one. When Simone Biles felt like she could not control her landings, she had a decision to make. She had to decide what was best for her team: should she try to compete even though she was unsure of herself and beginning to make mistakes, or should she let someone else compete so that they can maximize their score. This was a difficult decision, and one that cheerleaders often have to manage. When suddenly you or your teammate can’t throw and land that still consistently, they are putting your team score in jeopardy. More importantly, they are putting their own safety in danger. Tumbling is dangerous, it takes a lot of practice and skill to consistently execute high-level tumbling. However, there is a great risk of injury if it goes wrong. If you are having a bad day and forget part of your dance, there’s a deduction and you move on. If you have a bad day and lose your spot on a double full, you can tear your ACL (or worse). This is what Simone Biles was managing, and this is what we as cheerleaders must do consistently as well.

Even elite athletes have mental blocks

When we see professional athletes, we assume that they have skills and abilities beyond those of mere mortals. This is not the case. Simone Biles may be the best gymnast of her generation, but she is still a human. When we watch people fail, we must realize their humanity and understand that we ourselves have similar deficiencies. When we can accept other people’s shortcomings with grace and dignity, that allows us to display sportsmanship and become better athletes. Being aware of the commonality of mental blocks can help us interact kindly with our teammates as well. There will be a day where someone just can’t stick their landing. There will be days where you step on a skill you have thrown for a decade. Accepting these mistakes as a part of the natural process will help you to build relationships with your teammates and find grace for yourself.

Working through mental blocks is a team effort

Putting additional pressure on yourself or a teammate when they are working through a mental block can do serious damage to the healing process. The best thing you can do is provide mental and emotional support for someone struggling with their skills. Sometimes just a hug and a pat on the back does more to help struggling athletes than a year of counseling. Try to be a supportive member of your squad, and be empathetic to anyone (including yourself) that is struggling with a mental block.