Competitive teen athletes put in many, many hours of work as they have a strong drive to excel. They tend to do a good job at juggling many different demands on their time. There are many hours a week spent in training and practicing. They also want to excel academically and put the hours into studying. If they are a part of other extracurricular activities, time is spent ensuring they succeed here. And, on top of all this, they get to navigate the sometimes tricky adventure of teenage social relationships.
So, after sacrificing and putting in the time and effort to excel, there is nothing more frustrating to a teen athlete than to have an athletic performance block.
What is an Athletic Performance Block?
An athletic performance block is mental block that gradually or suddenly prevents the teen from performing at capable levels. Though the teen athlete has previously shown that they can perform with ease, a performance block may arise impeding or preventing them from doing so. Many teen athletes report experiencing the following that impede their ability to compete at the level they know they are capable:
Inability to execute muscle memory movements
Feeling of being locked, stuck, or frozen
Lost off fine and gross motor control and,
a a moderate to high level of anxiety before, during, and/or after the event
It's challenging for a teen athlete as the performance block places an artificial restraint on the teen athlete's true capabilities. It prevents them from utilizing their athletic talent they know they have. They have been able to compete before without any issue and now this mental block prevents it. Feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and depression can settle in the longer it persists.
How Do Performance Blocks Develop?
Performance blocks usually have a strong underpinning of teen anxiety or an anxiety related component. As a result, there is a strong psychological element in performance blocks. Teen athletes who experience performance blocks can report increased levels of anxiety. They feel they have little control over the block despite their best efforts. Questions arise like, "Will this be temporary?", "How can I get rid of it?", "Will I ever be able to perform like I used to?"
Intrusive thoughts of self-doubt, fear, etc.
A sense of impending danger or panic
Increased heart rate
Difficulty in controlling worry
The urge to avoid the thing that is causing the worry, panic, fear, etc.
Performance blocks may stem from:
A recent injury
A past injury
An experience earlier in life that may now be manifesting as a performance block
There are times when after a teen athlete heals from the physical injury, there is more healing needed beyond the physical. Injury is a physical trauma and an emotional trauma. There are times where the emotional trauma related to this injury has not been healed like the physical trauma has. The emotional trauma can become imprinted in the teen athlete’s brain.
Now, when they experience similar surroundings, events, sounds, smells, etc., this triggers the imprinted trauma that has not been processed. Once it has been triggered, our unconscious tries to protect the teen athlete. It does this by creating anxiety, fear, and other avoidance behaviors to prevent them from engaging the activity that led to the injury.
At this point, the rational part of our brain is at war with the trauma part of our brain (the limbic system). The limbic system has imprinted the emotions, memories, and physical sensation of the injury. It won't let go. It won't let it get processed and move on. It is trying to protect us from similar future events by holding the experience and emotions regarding the injury where it can be readily accessed. But, it doesn't register that we don't need protection.
How Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Can Help
EMDR is a research supported therapy approach for teen trauma therapy and PTSD treatment developed in the 1980's. It is also one of the primary treatment approaches in trauma therapy and PTSD treatment. The American Psychological Association (APA), the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all endorsed EMDR.
Since the 1980's, EMDR has been effective in treating a variety of other struggles as well. EMDR treats generalized anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, fear related disorders, among others.
So if EMDR was designed to treat significant trauma (veterans returning from war), how does it help with some of these other teen anxiety related struggles (being bullied, losing a loved one, or even a sports injury)?
Each of these struggles are related to anxiety (PTSD is an anxiety disorder) and as such, they all share the same, similar, and/or overlapping networks in the brain. Whether we are talking about PTSD treatment or teen anxiety treatment for panic attacks, we are working within elements of the same anxiety network.
When a teen athlete is injured and returns to the game after a period of rehab, there may be anxiety related to not reinjuring themselves. Often, the anxiety passes and they are back at 100%. Sometimes, the anxiety doesn't pass, the brain holds onto the anxiety, and performance block occurs.
EMDR is designed to target and process the blocked, stuck image, emotions, and body sensations that are held hostage by our limbic system. This blockage is what creates the performance anxiety.
The EMDR therapist will help the teen athlete by addressing the past experience. The teen athlete will recount the memory, image, feelings, and body sensation of the past event. While the teen athlete is addressing the past, the EMDR therapists will also help keep the teen grounded in the present.
This process acts as a limbic system 'gear shift' which dislodges the stuck image, emotions, and body sensation freeing it up. It can then be processed to an adaptive neural network as it should have in the beginning. The memory will still be there but the strong emotions surrounding the memory will fade.
We Can Help Your Teen & Family Through EMDR
Providing EMDR therapy in Katy, Tx, we can help teen athletes who may be experiencing a performance or mental blocks. EMDR for teen athletes is an effective tool to help dislodge the stuck content. Our treatment of choice for teen athletes who experience a performance block is EMDR. Yet, Neurofeedback can be another effective option for performance blocks and athletic peak performance. We provide neurofeedback in Katy, Texas and for the Houston area.
EMDR can help in other ways outside of athletics as well. As mentioned before, EMDR for trauma therapy and EMDR for PTSD treatment is a very effective approach. EMDR can help with teen depression, teen anxiety, panic attacks, and more. EMDR for teens tends to work faster than EMDR for adults (and faster in children than teens).
If you would like to read more about how EMDR works, you can read our post, "What Exactly is EMDR & How Can It Help My Teen?" This post refers primarily to EMDR for trauma therapy and EMDR for PTSD treatment. Yet, it also dives into what a teen can expect in an EMDR session.
Katy Teen & Family Counseling:
Begin EMDR for Teens in Katy, Tx & the Houston Area
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide EMDR for teen athletes who may be struggling with a performance block. EMDR therapy can help dislodge the 'stuck' emotional strength around this block. EMDR counseling for mental blocks has shown to be effective and can be for your teen too.
If it's you would like to talk with our trained EMDR therapist or would like to schedule an appointment, you can follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC
Meet with our EMDR therapist
Start the process of freeing your teen to play to their potential and to continue to excel!
In Addition to EMDR for Teen Athletes, We Also Provide the Following Counseling & Therapeutic Services
teen panic attacks Neurofeedback for ADHD Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance) Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance) Teen depression counseling Therapy for trauma PTSD counseling for teens
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy) For:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) For:
How to Begin Teen Therapy or Family Counseling
To begin teen therapy or family counseling, simply contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling through our website or by calling 346-202-4662. Our Owner and Lead Clinician answers each phone call to help match you with the right therapist for you teen and family.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He is a Specialist in Teen Therapy & Family Counseling. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003. Through his expertise, he helps teens who struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, ADHD/ADD, and PTSD. He works with talented teen athletes who have experience mental blocks. Gifted students have unique challenges that Jason understands well. Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, and Motivational Interviewing. We only work with teens and families which allows us to focus on what teens and families of today need. Resolving the struggles of today can assure a more successful tomorrow. Proudly serving Katy, Tx and Houston.