The dreaded mental block. Something all coaches, parents, and athletes hope they never have to encounter. While mental blocks can be very frustrating for everyone involved, there are different ways to help diminish the effects of mental blocks on athlete performance.
The term mental block refers to the concept of an athlete being hesitant or fearful of performing a particular skill, whether that be tumbling, stunting, or other various skills. There are many different ways that mental blocks can develop, it is important to understand the source of the block in order to be able to reverse it. Potential causes of mental blocks include:
Thankfully, there are various strategies that can be used to help curb the block, including the following:
The scorpion is one of the more difficult body positions for flyers in cheer. As with the other body positions we see flyers do, the scorpion relies heavily on flexibility. However, the strength of your body is another key component of the scorpion. Especially as we see many teams doing a “kick-up” scorpion, which combines the need for flexibility and strength even more.
While a common theme with many aspects of cheer, the scorpion is a very unnatural position for the human body, probably more so than most other positions the body will be in. This makes strengthening and stretching the right muscles very important. Far too often we see athletes compensate using other muscle groups, and therefore placing increased stress through their spine. This can lead to injuries to the muscles and even to the spine itself.
Performing the following exercises can help to get or improve your scorpion in a safe way. While the flexibility of your back and shoulders are important, having a strong core will help to make pulling the body position easier.
I can not stress this enough. It is absolutely imperative that you are stretching both sides equally. In cheer, we see most flyers flying on their right leg and therefore pulling the scorpion with their left leg. This results in many athletes deciding to only stretch their left leg for a scorpion. You need to stretch both sides the same amount to keep both sides equally flexible and strong. If one side is significantly stronger or more flexible than the other, your body will be unbalanced and it will place you at a much higher risk for injury.
*Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds to a minute, and repeat 3-4 times. Try to go a little deeper into each stretch during each repetition. You should feel a good stretch during each of these, but you should not feel pain.
1. Front Split
2. Front Split with Backward Lean
(*Only perform this stretch once you have mastered a full front split without needing hand support)
3. Bow Stretch
4. Scorpion Stretch
5. Back Bend
6. Seal Stretch
7. Scorpion Position with Strap
***Make sure that your knee is pointing directly behind you, not to the side. When your knee is pointing to the side, you are placing your spine in a position that could potentially cause injury.
These exercises should be completed with 5 second holds, for a total of 20-30 repetitions. They can be broken down into 2-3 sets of 10 with a break between each set.
2. Bird Dog
4. Donkey Kicks
5. Plank Hold
These should be done for 30-60 second holds, for 2-3 repetitions.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, often referred to as “runner’s knee”, is one of the most common causes of knee pain. PFPS is a common injury seen in adolescent athletes, particularly females. It is caused by an imbalance of forces placed through the patella, or kneecap. The amount of stress placed on the patellofemoral joint varies during certain activities, ranging from about ⅓ to ½ of body weight during walking, 3 times body weight with stair climbing, 5 to 6 times body weight with running, and up to 7 times body weight with squatting. As you can imagine, there is a good amount of running and squatting involved in cheer and this places athletes at an increased risk of developing PFPS.
Risk Factors for Developing PFPS
Any of these factors alone could cause an athlete to develop PFPS, however if multiple of these factors are at play, that further increases the likelihood of the athlete developing PFPS. The good news is that many of these factors are preventable and/or fixable.
Symptoms of PFPS
Treatment of PFPS
Physical therapy is a key component in recovering from PFPS. A physical therapist will evaluate you to help determine what the cause or causes are and then develop an individualized program to address these factors. Some of the common treatment activities include:
Prevention of PFPS
While PFPS is usually easily resolved with physical therapy, there is a high chance that it can recur, or come back, unless changes to your training are made.
An overuse injury is a type of muscle or bone injury, such as tendinopathy (tendinitis) or a stress fracture, that is caused by repetitive trauma.
There are different causes of overuse injuries, but they tend to originate from 2 different sources:
Overuse injuries are more common in athletes as they get older as well as with athletes that specialize in one sport year round. This is part of the reason why it is important for athletes to participate in multiple sports, so different muscles can be used and develop equally with other muscles.
Ways to help prevent overuse injuries from occurring:
If you believe you or your athlete have sustained an overuse injury, it is important to manage and treat it early as it can persist and turn into chronic pain, which tends to take longer to recover from. More mild overuse injuries such as a tendinitis can usually be treated with just physical therapy, more serious injuries such as a stress fracture usually require treatment from a physician.
What is a Muscle Strain?
Often called a muscle pull, a strain is any damage to a muscle or a tendon. Before I talk about what to do if you experience a muscle strain, it is important to understand the different types, or levels, of these injuries.
Grade I: A grade I strain, often called a mild muscle strain, occurs when the fibers of the muscle or tendon are overstretched. There may or may not be a few small tears in this type of strain. You will likely experience mild pain with some mild swelling in this type of injury. This is the most common type of muscle strain seen.
Grade II: Also referred to as a moderate muscle strain, these are slightly more serious than grade I in that the muscle is even more overstretched and some of the fibers are torn, though there is not a complete tear of the muscle or tendon. Likely symptoms include more pain and swelling, along with bruising and some difficulty moving that part of the body.
Grade III: A severe muscle strain is one in which most of the fibers are completely torn, or in some cases the muscle is completely torn or ruptured. Movement is usually very difficult and you will see even more pain, swelling, and bruising than Grade II strains.
More severe muscle strains, including Grade III’s and even some bad Grade II’s should be seen by a medical professional to determine the best treatment options.
Grade I injuries are much more common and respond better to more conservative treatment options.
So I Have a Muscle Strain, What Do I Do?
The most important first step following a mild muscle strain is to rest. If the muscle is damaged, doing activities or exercises that use that muscle will only damage it even more.
Using ice and compression can also aid in managing the pain and swelling that may be present.
If there is swelling around the area, elevating the limb will help to decrease some of that swelling.
Build back up slowly. Once you are ready to return to your sport or activity, don’t just jump right back in where you left off. This increases the chance of a re-injury. Start off slow and gradually work your way back up to the level you were at prior to injury. If you start to feel any pain, take a step back.
Grade I injuries tend to heal rather quickly if these steps are taken, often times in as little as 1-2 weeks. If you are experiencing pain that lasts longer than this, it is a good idea to see a medical professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
A physical therapist can do the following:
What is Stretching?
Stretching is defined as the lengthening of muscles in order to increase muscle flexibility and improve joint range of motion. Stretching activities are a very important part of any exercise or rehabilitation program.
There are a few different goals that can be accomplished from stretching. Before you begin stretching, ask yourself what you are looking to do.
2 Basic Types of Stretching
The million dollar question that comes up a lot is when to stretch. Should you stretch before or after exercise?
Research shows that static stretching before exercise or sport shows no incidence of reducing injury risk and static stretching prior to exercise can actually lower your physical performance. Static stretching helps to relax your muscles and this is not something that you want to do prior to engaging in physical activity.
So what should you do? Dynamic stretching helps to activate and warm up your muscles prior to activity. Research suggests that dynamic stretching prior to exercise can actually improve performance by increasing blood flow to muscles, speed of nerve impulses, and oxygen delivery while increasing flexibility and force of muscle contraction. Although dynamic stretching can help to improve your physical performance, research does not explicitly show that it will decrease risk for injury.
While static stretching before exercise may not be the best idea, static stretching does still have its benefits. Post-exercise muscles tend to get stiff and this is where static stretches can help. Performing static stretches immediately post workout can help to return the muscle to its pre-exercise length and help prevent further stiffness.
How Long Should You Hold a Stretch? How Often?
Holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds, once a day, has been shown to be effective in increasing muscle length and flexibility. Research shows that holding for longer than 30 seconds and increasing frequency for more than once per day does not have any significant increased benefits for improved flexibility.
It is also important to be consistent with your stretching and know that you will most likely not see any improvements overnight. On average, it takes approximately 4-6 weeks to seen an actual change in muscle length from stretching regularly. So keep it up and don’t get discouraged if you do not see results immediately.
When Not to Stretch?
Key Points to Remember
The off-season. A term that is pretty much non-existent in all-star cheerleading. Sure, some gyms may take a week or two off between the last competition of one season and tryouts for the next season, but it seems that the gap between seasons is narrowing every year. With some gyms even holding tryouts before the final competition of the previous season, this ongoing trend can lead to trouble for the young athletes that participate in this sport.
While having an off-season may have a negative connotation to some people, it is a necessary component of the training cycle. With year round sports, not just cheerleading, becoming more prevalent, the incidence of overuse injuries are also increasing, especially in youth athletes.
Without taking any time off from high level activities, the body will eventually begin to wear down faster than it can repair itself. When continued for long enough, this can lead to a wide variety of injuries including tendinitis/tendinosis, stress fractures, muscle tears, among others. These types of injuries can vary greatly in severity, though are often avoidable or easily treated if addressed quickly. However, when ignored, they can progress to a point where the body continues to break down, resulting in an even more severe injury, and therefore leading to more time off from the sport.
There are a few potential warning signs that may indicate an overuse injury, these include:
Another potential negative consequence of a lack of off-season is burnout, or mental exhaustion from doing the same thing repetitively without a break. While this is more of a psychological issue, it can also lead to an increased risk of injury. This is because athletes that are not mentally at 100% for their sport may lack focus, desire, or proper mechanics while performing skills. This may lead to injuring, not only themselves, but could also lead to injuries of teammates.
So we know there are many potential negative effects of not having a proper off-season, but realistically, this likely isn’t ideal for many coaches or athletes. People in this sport often get the idea that if they are not practicing, they will fall behind their competition. Off-season doesn’t necessarily mean don’t set foot in the gym for a few months, because that would likely lead to more problems and risk for injury upon return. This could mean practicing less often, taking more breaks during practice, or working on any physical deficits an athlete may have to help prevent future injury. Weak core muscles, decreased glute/hamstring strength, lack of flexibility, are all common weaknesses in all-star cheerleaders. Take the time to focus on these areas to help make the return to regular season in your sport easier and decreased the risk of potential injury. Yes, “conditioning” may be boring for some athletes, but there are lots of ways to make it fun! Turn it into a competitions or make a game out of it, this way the athletes are getting the benefit out of the exercises without feeling like they are being punished.
In order to understand the best ways to strengthen the core, we must first understand what muscles make up the core.
When you hear the word “core”, you probably think of “abs” or “six-pack”. However, the muscle that leads to the 6-pack look, the rectus abdominis, is just one of the many muscles that make up the core.
The rectus abdominis can flex the trunk, like you do when you perform crunches or sit-ups. This is why these exercises are so popular, because they can help you achieve that 6-pack abs look that so many people desire. However, there are other muscles in the body that help control your core that are just as important, if not more important than this one.
The external obliques help to form the outer wall of your core and run along the sides of your trunk. They also help to flex the trunk, but also assist with rotation.
The internal obliques run just underneath the external obliques, running in the opposite direction, and also assist with rotation of the trunk.
Another muscle of the core is what is called the transversus abdominis, or TA. This muscle wraps around you like a corset and helps to improve the stability of your core.
The spinal erectors run down your back right up against the spine. These muscles help you stand up straight and maintain upright posture.
The hip flexors are another component to the core. These muscles are crucial to jumping and tumbling.
Often times in cheerleaders, the spinal erectors and hip flexors will be overactive and lead to what is called an anterior pelvic tilt, typically noted by an arched back in standing. A little bit of tilt is ok. However, too much tilt can mean weaker muscles in the abdomen and/or glutes leading to increased stress on the back and hips. Good core exercises will help to keep these muscles in check while strengthening the other muscles of the core.
Other muscles, such as the hip extensors and abductors, as well as hamstrings, are not always included in the “core”, but when weak can lead to problems that affect the core. So it is very important to make sure that these muscles are strong as well.
So, now that we know a little bit more about what makes up the core, how do we strengthen it? Here is a list of some of the most effective core strengthening exercises as well as how to do them. If you are experiencing any pain, either prior to, during, or after doing any of these exercises, stop and consult a physical therapist.
2. Rolling Side Plank
3. Physioball Pike Rollouts
4. Hollow Body Holds
5. Bird Dog
6. Reverse Crunch
7. Flutter Kicks
8. Leg Lowering
10. Single Leg Bridges
It’s Day 2 of Nationals and your team has a great shot at winning. They had a great performance Day 1 and are currently in the lead. Everyone on the team is very excited and ready to show what they have been working so hard for all season. During warm ups, several athletes on the team are talking about how important this performance is and how much the team needs to hit the routine to win. Unfortunately, once the team hits the floor, they have a less than stellar performance and end up dropping several places.
This example can be very frustrating for the coaches, athletes, as well as the parents and spectators. While some amount of anxiety is a normal and can be a good way to improve performance, too much anxiety can hinder performance and result in negative effects.
There are several strategies that a coach or athlete can use to help reduce the occurrence of high levels of competition anxiety.
Reduce the Importance of Winning
Recognize the Individual Needs of Team Members
Reduce Uncertainty in a Competition Environment
One of the best ways to help motivate your team or an athlete is to develop goals for them to achieve. Here are my Top 10 tips to creating goals that are not only attainable, but will lead to increased motivation for your athletes.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is compiled from a variety of professional sources as well as the author's own experiences. The information should NOT be used in place of a visit to your healthcare provider or used to disregard any advice provided by your healthcare provider.