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How To Break The Cycle Of Balking

Tight Mind Monday: How To Break The Cycle Of Balking

Nov 6, 2017

Tight Mind Monday: Stop Balking!

Balking is one of the most frustrating things for coaches and athletes alike. Balking is the non-productive habit of stopping on a skill, keeping you stuck in a no-win loop. I know for many athletes, it can even feel beyond their control. It’s very important to break the balk cycle. Every time you stop on a skill, your brain forms a neural pathway of balking. With every stop, you make that pathway stronger. It’s kind of like you’re conditioning the balk muscle, and who wants to do that? Your job is to do whatever it takes to beat the balk beast and form a positive pathway with repetitive successful turns.

Sometimes balking is the symptom of a deeper issue in the mind. Here are four reasons some people balk on skills. There are many more, but here are the top four that I see in my work with athletes. Find the one that best fits you, and then create an opposite statement to help relax the mind. I’ll give you some examples as well, but if they don’t fit, create your own. Then, repeat this statement every time you perform the skill and watch how it melts the balk beast.

1. Many times balking simply originates from a fear of getting hurt. If you believe this is your issue, say inside your mind something like, “I know that I’m safe.” Say this type of statement over and over again as you perform the skill with which you are having trouble.

2. Sometimes balking is a result of fear of failure or over-trying. Many athletes put too much pressure on themselves which leads to a feeling of being too tight. It’s almost as if they have forgotten how to do the skill. When this happens, it’s essential to just focus on being aggressive on the skill and letting go of the pressure. If this sounds like you, say, “Just go all-out and the rest will take care of itself,” as you do the skill.

3. For some athletes balking is a symptom of feeling out of control. They are afraid their body will do something they don’t want it to do like stop or twist. There are some athletes that are afraid of balking, which causes them to balk! Sounds crazy — but it’s true. If you worry that your body will do something out of control, simply repeat, “I control my body,” as you perform the skill.

4. Finally, sometimes balking is just a result of over-thinking. The mind obsesses about the skill and soon it creates "analysis paralysis." If you are feeling like you are simply over-thinking, distract your mind by singing, saying a repetitive statement over and over again, or even saying what you had for breakfast inside your mind as you do the skill. Sounds funny, but the most important thing in this situation is getting your mind distracted so your body can do what it knows how to do.  

Doing these opposite statements helps your mind relax and get out of fight or flight mode. With your mind in proper position, your body can do the skill that its trained to do. Anchor your mind on these statements and stop the Balk Beast in its tracks.  

Alison Arnold, Ph.D., has been a peak performance consultant to USA Gymnastics since 1997. For more information on Doc Ali and her work, go to www.headgamesworld.com or www.headgameswebcamp.com