‘Learning a new technique is always a challenge but it’s achievable. You can see how you can do it, and the steps and little extras you can do off the trampoline to help. What happens when the problem isn’t physical, it’s in your head?’
ON OVERCOMING THE ‘INVISIBLE’ CHALLENGE…
The biggest surprise of my career is how many obstacles I’ve faced and that no matter how difficult they were, I’ve been able to overcome them. As an athlete, you know you’ll have to compete and face the ‘normal’ challenges but there are so many other, bigger ones that, until they happen to you, you’d never even consider.
When I was young, I had Osgood-Schlatter Disease in my knees. It was a small injury but the first one I experienced. Then, in 2008, I unexpectedly lost all of my skills. I couldn’t take off or anything, purely because of fear. I was simply too scared. It took several years for me to get over that and was incredibly difficult because physically I knew I was able to perform the moves. It was my mind that was stopping me from doing something that I loved. I didn’t understand what was going on and it was so frustrating because I wanted to compete and do all of the skills that I already knew how to do but my body and my mind wouldn’t let me do it. When that happens, you just hit a blank. There’s no reason for your behaviour so it feels like there’s no solution. What can you do?! That’s the most frustrating part. The ‘block’ happened in waves from 2008 onwards, so I’d get through it and then it would happen again. Eventually, I managed to get enough skills back for The Nationals but, almost immediately after the competition ended, I lost them again. It was almost like I focused for that competition and then all the focus disappeared. It was so strange. It took several years for them to properly return, building up slowly; one step forwards, one step back; two steps forward, one step back. It was really hard but eventually I got through it. I honestly don’t know how I got though all the challenges but I’m happy I was strong enough to.
The turning point?
With the mental block, it was definitely a confidence- and an age-thing. Lots of people have gone through ‘Lost Move Syndrome’ technically but, for me, I didn’t get muddled up with skills, I just couldn’t take off with them. It turns out that my block was caused by a lack of confidence. I was approaching the age where I realized that what I was doing wasn’t natural and that if it went wrong it could hurt me, so it was partly fear of injury. The other factor was adolescence. As everyone does, I’d lost some of my confidence going through the hormonal, body and other changes and, as a result, I didn’t have enough self-trust and that manifested on the trampoline.
My coach at the time found a confidence coach who had studied psychology. Speaking to him really helped me to understand why it was that I was stopping myself because I just couldn’t understand it. I felt like there was this weird force that was stopping me from taking off but it was obviously my mind, and I had to learn how to control that part of me. First I learned how to understand it and then I learned how to control it.
ON SHUTTING MYSELF OFF…
At the time, one of the most difficult things was being around the other gymnasts. We train with mixed age groups and abilities, and some of the younger girls didn’t understand why I would start jumping and then all of a sudden just stop dead. They’d laugh about it, like ‘Oh why are you doing that?’ and that would really affect me because I felt so embarrassed, like ‘Oh everyone can see how much I’m struggling.’ I didn’t want people to see me fail and I didn’t want to fail. They kept asking ‘Why can’t you do it? You can do it’ but I couldn’t. I just thought ‘I know I can but I can’t anymore.’ It was annoying for them but it was happening to me. I just had to work through it - it was just a confidence thing - and trust in my own ability.
TIPS TO BECOME A BETTER TRAMPOLINIST
LOTS OF CROSS-TRAINING. I spend more time off the trampoline than I do on it to prepare my body for the impact of the trampoline. You need to do lots of gym work, swimming, cycling, boxing, cardio and more. Bouldering and rock climbing are great too. I’ve been doing them more recently and they’re brilliant for improving balance, core stability, coordination etc. Plus, you get to be outdoors surrounded by nature so that always makes it more fun.
DEVELOP A STRONG CORE. The special thing about gymnasts compared to other athletes is that, not only do we have to have high levels of agility and flexibility but our bodies need to be very strong too, especially the legs and core. Your core strength plays an important role in almost every part of your movement, technique and control (both for body positioning and when tumbling through the air); and your leg strength and plyometric ability heavily influences your ability to withstand the forces of the trampoline and the height of your jumps. Focusing your gym training on these areas will help to improve your technique on the trampoline.
WORK ON YOUR ARM AND SHOULDER MOBILITY, AND MUSCLES. When you land on the trampoline, your arms are in the air so good shoulder strength is vital in order to generate force, perform somersaults, rotations, and also to maintain good control during your rotations. You also need strong, steady arms to pull your legs in towards your body and hold form as you're somersaulting, without losing the sleek, clean lines or creating increased air resistance that could slow down or waver the movement.
MY FAVOURITE MOVES
FULL IN, HALF OUT. You do a double front, with a full twist in the first somersault and a half twist in the second in the pike position. It’s my favourite skill because it’s the last one that I had to get back after I lost all of my skills. Every time I do it, it feels so good, and gives me a really strong sense of pride. It reminds me how I got through such a difficult time and never gave up.
3/4 FRONT SOMERSAULT. You fly through the air forwards and do ¾ somersaults before landing on your back. It’s the start of my set routine so it’s really high. The move itself is very simple but it feels amazing because it’s almost like you’re flying. You take off and you just float through the air.
MY FAVOURITE PLACES TO COMPETE
RIO, BRAZIL. Competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics was amazing. It’s such a nice place but unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of it as I ended up watching all of the other sports instead of exploring. I’m so glad I did but I’d love to go back and explore the city more.
JAPAN. I really like Japan. I always find their culture and attitudes to be so respectful and welcoming. They’re so polite and really cherish their simple, traditional values, looking after their environment and elders; but, at the same time, their cities are incredibly high tech and full of fun. I love the combination. We recently trained with the Chinese National Team too, which was brilliant - both teams are great fun - and on the last night they took us to an amazing karaoke booth. They had an iPad on the wall so you could choose whatever you wanted. We stayed there for hours, singing everything and anything.
BEST ADVICE: GET A SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST
In the past, athletes used sports psychologists to help them if they were having problems but, these days, more and more athletes (and people in general) are using psychologists proactively, for maintenance. It’s a very healthy attitude as, by talking to them, they work with us to improve our strengths, not just to resolve our weaknesses. As an athlete it’s all about finding those extra gains; they can make the difference between winning or losing, not just in your motivation but also in how you feel about the sport and even yourself.
‘The biggest turning point for me was realizing that: yes, I’ve trained so hard for the competition but the reason why I do trampolining is because I love spinning in the air with absolute control.’
ON GETTING INTO THE ZONE…
The key to getting in the right frame of mind and feeling confident before a competition is to be prepared. If you control the controllables, then you know that during the routine, your mind will be clear and you can focus on all of the technical things on the trampoline that you want to. It's definitely the best way to approach competing; it gets rid of any negative thoughts (i.e. all the worries: that I might mess up, the judges, the scores, the competitors etc.) before they can even enter your mind. Some of the techniques I practice are:
1. Practicing breathing techniques just before your routine will help to stabilize your heart rate, anxiety levels etc. You don’t want to be too relaxed - you still want to feel the adrenalin and excitement – but this way you’ll feel pumped up without being shaky. That’s vital, especially in a sport like trampolining as you need to be able to control how you land on the trampoline and if you’re shaky, you’ll go all over the place.
2. I always do a power pose before competitions. It helps me to feel more confident. You stand in a powerful position, so arms wide out or folded across your chest, chest in a powerful, confident position and, if you hold it for 2mins, it’s supposed to reduce stress levels, and increase focus and your ability to deal with stressful situations by changing your biological chemical composition.
’Yes, we agree and so does multi-sport Paralympian and psychologist, David Smith (MBE). Click here to check out his interview where he discusses the influence of epigenetics and neuroplasticity on the brain and body.’
‘The key to success: having fun and performing the routine for myself; because I enjoy it and not because I have to’
I WISH I’D KNOWN SOONER…
It seems really obvious and simple now but, when I was younger, I used to get really nervous; I wasn’t confident enough to say ‘Ok, yes, everybody knows about podium points etc. That won’t change. I’ve done enough training. I’m know good enough so let’s just do what I know how to do and enjoy it.’ Now I am.
To extract the best performance from me during a competition, all I need to do is focus entirely on the fact that I’m doing the routine for myself, simply because I enjoy it. That way, I can focus all of my attention on the technical aspects and ‘feeling’ the routine. That’s so important. The feeling that you get when you do a good routine and in the air is amazing – there’s nothing like it!
I’D LOVE TO COMPETE AGAINST… TARA LIPINSKI
She’s not in my sport, she’s a figure skater, but I’d love to compete against her, or with her. My first Olympic memory is of watching Tara skate in the 1998 Winter Olympics. If I could be good at any other sport and compete at the same level I am now, it would definitely be that. In some ways, it’s quite similar to trampolining because not only is it expressive with a number of acrobatic movements, but you also need to be extremely strong and get to wear gorgeous leotards. They look so graceful but, to perform the movements, their bodies have to be so sculpted, flexible, with extremely strong cores, and that’s before they even get to mastering the techniques. I just love it. It’s incredible.
I’d like to compete in the athletics too, perhaps the 100m sprint or relay with Asha Philip. We used to compete against each other in trampolining so we get along really well, and fitness-wise it’s the closest to my discipline. It’s also one of the original Olympic disciplines and attracts massive crowds so the atmosphere at the competitions is always electric.
RUN AWAY WITH THE CIRCUS? LET’S GO!
After competing ends, I’d love to join Cirque Du Soleil – it’s an acrobatics circus. I absolutely love performing and the idea of being able to express personality on a trampoline. I’d get to dance, perform acrobatics, wear fantastic costumes and do what I love doing in front of an audience for a living. I think it would be amaaazzziinngg. It’s essentially what I do now but this is a competitive, whereas, with the circus I’d be putting on a show full of entertainment so the audience would get more enjoyment out of watching it, and I out of performing it too because I’d be doing it for fun; no stress, no consequences.
Bryony Page is a British Olympic Trampolinist. Follow her on Twitter