Performance Blocks

In the work with performance psychology, there are a number of athletes reporting difficulties linked to performing what used to be automatic movements. Athletes often describe this as a mysterious and sudden loss of an ability or skill that was previously automatic. This phenomenon is called Performance blocks, but has also previously been called Loss movement syndrome, yips or twisties. Performance blocks can be described as the loss of spatial awareness during an intense routine in e.g., gymnastics, and involve problems that manifest in locked, stuck, or frozen movement, lost ability in terms of fine and / or gross motor control and debilitating anxiety. It can simply be described as a fear of movements that used to be automatic and uncomplicated, meaning that it is no longer possible for an athlete to perform a skill, such as a volt for a gymnast, a jump for a figure skater or a swing for the golfer. This can be very troublesome and intimidating for the athlete and can lead to serious injuries.

Performance blocks can develop following severe stress, emotional abuse, trauma, worry or anxiety. It can also be a consequence of advanced motor skills being forced too quickly, stressing the athlete which can inhibit the process of automating the movements. The trigger can also be the very moment when the feeling of losing control occurs.

Performance blocks is not a medical diagnosis and is not to be mixed up with mental health problems, even though there may be links between the two. An effect of performance blocks can be anxiety related to the gear of not being able to regain the skills previously mastered. It can lead to, or be parallel to, depression, feelings of poor performance, and fear of disappointing a coach or teammate, or ultimately being kicked off the team. This can mirror symptoms similar to depression, anxiety and perhaps sleeping difficulties. Performance blocks can be manifested without more serious co-occuring symptoms and is then more easily assessed and treated. Performance blocks are a phenomenon that has not yet been researched to any greater extent. The existing studies indicate that the treatment that has been shown to be effective is a combination of trauma therapy and gradual exposure, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. With cognitive behavioral techniques, the athlete can learn to regain their skills and to perform again. The research community emphasize that treatment must be delivered by licensed clinical psychologists with experience in treating trauma.