Mental Blocks – Standing Tucks
As requested from one of our readers, this article is going to deal with mental blocks related to standing tucks. Please keep the suggestions coming. They are most appreciated!
Standing tucks seem to be one of the most significant mile-stones that a cheerleader reaches in their skill development. Tucks are often the gateway trick of making the varsity team at your school or the highest level team at your all star gym. On judging panels, “squad tucks,” still always seems to be the standard to score in the 9 out of 10 range for standing tumbling, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Lots of cheerleaders hit a road block when they start working on a standing tuck. I believe it is very common for cheerleaders and coaches to think students have a mental block when the struggle to throw their standing tuck. However, in almost every case, I believe this is a misdiagnosis of the problem. Here comes a lengthy explanation…
When it comes to tumbling, most TRUE mental blocks come from the anticipation of the trick. For instance, they are nervous about their full. They think about it in the round off. They undercut their back handspring. They lose their power, and then bail out on the full. But a standing tuck is over with in basically the blink of an eye. There isn’t much time to get nervous. Mental blocks sometimes occur, but I’ve found them to be rare. In fact, most advanced students that I’ve worked with who have suffered mental blocks lose all of their tumbling EXCEPT for their standing tucks. I have even seen standing tucks used as a therapeutic tool to help students overcome other mental blocks.
I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of cheerleaders who struggle to overcome a fear of standing tucks. There are many. I was one of them. However, there is a difference between being afraid to attempt a trick and having a mental block.
Honest fear of a standing tuck might simply be a matter of not having perfected it yet. Remember in an earlier paragraph where I mention that tucks are often a gateway for a cheerleader to make a varsity team. That being the case, a lot of cheerleaders rush to start learning a tuck, well before they should. They have not yet perfected their back handspring. They have not yet developed the lower ab and hip flexor strength to pull their legs and hips over their shoulders. In other words, they are physically not capable of consistently landing their tuck, their body knows this, and they are rightfully scared. I believe that this fear is frequently mis-labeled as a mental block.
Dealing with THAT type of fear is simple, but time-consuming. I suggest taking a look at another article on this blog called Standing Tucks are Simple. It provides some useful guidance on tuck technique.
As for gaining confidence (overcoming fear) in your standing tuck, there are two things that will help you do that. The first is do more tucks. I know, I know, pretty obvious. I had an instructor once who used to quiz us by saying, “Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key. Repetition is the key. What is the key?” Every responded, “Repetition.” I think this saying is especially true in standing tucks. Also, do not allow yourself to be limited to only throwing them with a spotter. If you have to take your shoes off to throw them by yourself, do it. If you have to use a cheese mat, do that. Use a trampoline (under supervision, and using correct technique). And, of course, also use a spotter. But you are better off throwing 100 tucks with a cheese mat and no shoes than throwing 10 tucks on the hard floor in shoes with a spotter. Remember, repetition is the key!
The other thing to help build confidence is conditioning. The first thing you have to do is be honest about your physical condition. I once had a young student. She learned very quickly and was performing advanced running tumbling by the time she was 10. But then, she started gaining weight. Lot’s of weight. By the time she was 13 she was 40 or 50 pounds over weight. Not surprisingly, her tumbling suffered. Her mom had her in private lessons and open gyms, looking for some technique that she could learn to get her to start landing her tumbling again. News flash: there isn’t one. You have to be an exceptional athlete to throw a tuck. The moral of the story is be honest. Maybe you need to tone up a little. Maybe you need to work on your abs. Maybe you need to improve your jump strength. Whatever it is, as you become physically stronger, you will automatically develop more confidence in your tumbling. Soon, that “mental block” will start to fade away.
Now to get into REAL mental blocks. Like I said, these are rare for standing tucks. These are when you have a well conditioned athlete who is proficient in their standing tucks, and suddenly, for whatever reason, they get freaked out and won’t throw them anymore. I think I have seen this happen 4 or 5 times in the thousands of students I have worked with. In most cases, it has eventually derailed their cheerleading career. However, there are a couple of things we’ve tried that have helped, at least in the short-term.
The first thing is to video tape them performing the skill. I actually use video as a teaching tool for stunts and tumbling, even when there is no mental block to overcome. When a student actually sees what they are doing, not only does it help them correct technical issues, it really boosts their confidence. By the way, everyone I’ve ever shown video of their tumbling too has commented that they didn’t look anything like what they visualized in their mind. It makes a big difference. Try it!
Most other techniques I’ve used involve rather advanced spotting skills. Do not attempt to use these spotting techniques if you are not a strong spotter/instructor.
The first is a “forced spot.” I use this on students who are scared to even begin. I stand next to them and count out the tuck, “5, 6, 7, 8.” On “1,” if they do not go, I pick them up and flip them over and land them on their feet (I’m a pretty strong guy). This is usually very sudden and a little scary/shocking for the student, even though I tell them ahead of time that I am going to do it. Pretty soon, they are more scared of having me flip them than they are of just throwing the tuck. They are still getting a spot, even if it is only a “mental spot” and I am not actually helping them physically, but at least they’re throwing it.
The next spotting technique is a “delayed spot.” At this point, the student is scared, but they are throwing it with a spot. Now, instead of starting with my hand already on the student’s back, my hand is just behind her, not touching her. As she starts to perform the tuck, I put my hand on her back so she can feel it, and then she continues through the skill. You can start off touching the student as soon as she bends her knees to start her jump. Then, work your way down to where you are not touching her until just before the landing. Also, try to get to where your arms are hanging at your sides rather than in a ready position behind the student. All of these adjustments make the student “feel” more exposed, which allows them to overcome increasing degrees of fear. When doing this, make gradual changes. Do not make adjustments until the student has truly mastered whatever degree of spot you are giving them. Also, NEVER try to “trick” the student. If you say you are going to touch their back halfway through, you’d better do it, even if they don’t need it. If you lie to them, you will lose their trust and you will be useless to them as a coach. Seriously, that is no exaggeration.
This has been a lengthy article, so I’ll sum up a little bit. Check out the article, Tucks are Simple, for tuck technique advice. Be careful not to misdiagnosis a lack of readiness for a true mental block. Don’t look for short cuts. Do the work. Repetitions are the key. Honestly evaluate your physical condition. If you encounter a real mental block, video tape yourself. Watch the tape over and over. Be able to visualize exactly what you look like. Seek out a strong spotter and try to gradually wean yourself off the spot. These techniques are not “tricks.” You will not just “snap out of it.” They take time, but they do work. Have faith and work hard and you will get over your mental block.