There seems to be a growing concern in Cheer gyms around the world over the dreaded “mental block” in tumbling. Athletes are developing these mental issues for a number of reasons, but one major one is that many Cheerleaders are progressed through their skills very quickly, resulting in an inadequate level of aerial awareness being developed in their training. But what is aerial awareness, and how can it protect us against the dreaded “mental block”?
Aerial awareness is a combination of kinesthetic awareness (awareness of the body and its positioning) and spatial awareness (awareness of the body in relation to other objects). In the case of Cheerleading tumbling, our spatial awareness must not only encompass our sprung floor, but also other athletes who are tumbling next to us or, in some cases, throwing/catching us. Aerial awareness, therefore, tells us not only what position our body is in (are we upside down and tucked, or horizontal and straight, etc.) but also where we are in relation to the floor (is it time to open out for our landing, do we have enough height to complete the rotation, are we too high to make our tumbling connection etc.) An athlete with a high level of aerial awareness knows exactly where they are throughout their tumbling pass, meaning that the chances of something going wrong are minuscule and, even if something does go wrong, they have a good chance of adjusting themselves and coming out of the tumbling pass without injury. Even if the athlete does fall during a tumbling pass, they tend to think along the lines of “Oh I know what I did wrong, won’t be doing that again”, rather than “OMG I nearly died, I am never trying that again”.
Conversely, an athlete who has not developed their aerial awareness has a much higher chance of mistiming their take-off and/or landing, often resulting in injuries. Athletes without strong aerial awareness also lack versatility; if the slightest thing changes in their routine it can render them unable to perform their tumbling pass safely or at all. Similarly, athletes with low aerial awareness tend to dislike tumbling in general, as they feel (quite rightly) that they are risking serious injury every time they go up into the air. As a former gymnast, I can attest that there is nothing scarier than feeling lost/disorientated when you’re 6 feet up in the air!
Developing strong aerial awareness through drills and tumbling repetitions is therefore one of the best ways to avoid “mental blocks”, as it instills a level of control and confidence in an athlete that is hard to break or undermine. A confident athlete is a safe athlete (and vice-versa), so developing aerial awareness is a crucial aspect of tumbling training. Taking longer periods with drills and progressions when the athlete is learning new skills will develop aerial awareness and safe athlete and coaches a lot of time which will be lost to “mental blocks” if skill progressions are rushed. As always with tumbling/gymnastics, SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE!