My Mental Journey Through Gymnastics

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My name is Shan, and I am Director of Training at 2Mynds. For me, my gymnastics career was more than just a sports career. Those hot Atlanta days spent training for 6-8 hours per day shaped some of the core foundations that make up the person I am today.

Mental fitness through gymnastics

Think you have a clear mind? A master of calm?

There’s nothing like standing on a 4-inch wide balance beam and preparing to do a front flip to suddenly have thoughts come pouring in like Niagara Falls…

How hard should I push for the take off? What if I miss?… Do I roll when I land?… I think I am too tired…

In gymnastics, training the mind is inseparable from training the body. In some sports, athletes can train and be fairly successful with most of their practices being focused on enhancing physical performance. This includes improving aspects of strength, mobility, coordination, and endurance to name a few. However, in gymnastics, it is impossible to train at a competition level without addressing mental fitness in conjunction with physical performance. Executing tough and dangerous skills every day in practice takes not just tremendous physical strength, but also requires a level of presence, confidence, and mental control. 

Practicing and mastering tricks that could seriously injure you at any moment develops the mind and body in a way that is almost indescribable in words. It is a mastery that can only be experienced. 

Dealing with injuries


I remember thinking, “I think I must be dying.” “You are not dying, breathe.” I remember hearing my brother say. 

I was about 10 years old when I first broke my elbow from an accidental slip of the high bar in practice. Fast forward to my senior year of high school just several months before graduating and going to Level 10 nationals. At this point, I qualified for several regional and national championships. I was in the top 6 in my region for vault and had won all-around in many state and local competitions. By my senior year of high school, I had also made three lengthy and character-building recoveries from three elbow fractures. Just moments prior I had stuck one of my best vaults at a pre-nationals competition at Clemson University. Next up, bars. 

Inhale… Exhale...

I salute the judge, and my bar routine begins. Coming up on my 1 ½ front twisting dismount, I slipped…again, injuring my elbow for the fourth time. This was the end of my high school senior year competition season and required me to get another surgery and battle through yet another rehab. After surgery, I remember thinking, “Should I keep going?…Is this the right decision?” I remember the fear creeping in shouting, “What if I fall again? What if I am unable to come back as strong as before?” I remember my doctor telling me I would need Tommy John surgery and that there was a possibility I would lost my grip strength due to the number of elbow fractures and injuries I sustained up to that point. 

I remember asking my mom, “What should I do?” College gymnastics was not only a free ride to an education, but my dream. Many D1 schools at this time did not want to take me any more because of my recent injury and planned surgery. I can remember the expression on my mom’s face as she looked at me and paused for a moment before saying very simply, “Well, what do you want to do?” After a quick thought, I responded, “I want to continue to flip, to perform, to compete. I want to do gymnastics.” To which my mom said, “Then go do that.”

Looking back, it is always funny to see how simple most decisions in life are. I am now a firm believer that everything that is happening to you right now is the best thing that could possibly be happening to you. No matter how good, bad, or indifferent your current situation is exactly where you need to be and the best place you could possibly be. 

My collegiate gymnastics career

Coming back from four severe elbow injuries made an already “mental” sport even more mentally challenging. In college, the pressure to perform was much higher. Competition now was not just about me, but I also carried the weight of performing for my team, my scholarship, and my own fiery pride. However, while I was still recovering from my elbow surgery at the start of my freshman year, the pressure to perform felt lower.

At the end of pre-season, I was able to come back quicker than medical professionals had projected. Beam was my first event at the competition level post-surgery, and after a 9.7 (nearly a perfect 10) performance on the beam, I quickly proved my ability to hold weight in the competition lineup. Slowly I continued to come back event by event until I returned to all four events and compete in the all-around. 

By my sophomore year, there was an expectation that was set and the pressure inconspicuously became heavier. Suddenly sticking landings, avoiding falls, and finishing routines without flaws, became more challenging. I remember the flood of thoughts coming in,

What happened? I can’t put it together. Now I am healthy. I am at my peak performance level. Why can I not perform?

My ability to execute every routine flawlessly only returned after a bout of frustration that led to me deciding, “…that is it. I am done obsessing over perfection. I am just going to enjoy the sport I love and be in each moment.” My junior year, I received two All Americans on both: bars and floor. Life is simple. Why do we over complicate it?

Before I understood the meaning of “flow state”, gymnastics taught me how to harness the magic that is this skill. In the book Way of the Peaceful Warrior Dan Millman says, “There’s never nothing going on. There are no ordinary moments.” 

Imparting my lessons learned

It is amazing how life can be transformed with a little bit of presence, and a whole lot of love and play. I would like to close my story with a few things that my career in gymnastics taught me: 

  1. All things done in love and play never fail. 
  2. When you surrender there is nothing left to lose. 
  3. Do whatever helps you find this moment, magic only occurs in the now
  4. Seek out people who do not always help you find the answers, but challenge you to ask deeper questions. 
  5. True mental fitness provides freedom. In an internally balanced state, we can stop trying to control and change our situation, but rather honor what is. In this acceptance, we find happiness and freedom. 
  6. Develop that ability to pick apart and create stills of each moment. This is a mental skill we practice often at 2Mynds. With this skill, we can not only improve accuracy in movement and function, but also develop the ability to become inebriated by the simple joys of life. 
  7. “If you don’t get what you want you suffer. Even if you get what you want you still suffer because you cannot hold onto it forever.”  Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.
  8. Learn to become unattached to outcomes. Life is in the now. 
  9. Love is everything. Bring love into everything. Love is medicine. 
  10. Continually re-evaluate what success looks like to you. 

Being the Director of Training at 2Mynds allows me the creative space to not just use my knowledge of human anatomy and physiology to train for both performance in the athletic arena and life at large, but also share with others how to train the mind. As a physical therapist, I have often felt the job leaves out such a vital component of the individual, the mind. How can we assist the body in healing without addressing the mind?! I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to revolutionize mental training for life and sports by assisting 2Mynds on their mission to teach the world to train the mind like we train the body.

I hope my story and the mind-body workouts on the 2Mynds online platform help to bridge the gap between your physical and mental fitness. Furthermore, I hope they help you transform your training both on and off the field, arena, boardroom, and home. I’m excited for you to experience the mind-body workouts that we created to help you achieve peak performance.

Come train with us!

At 2Mynds, mental fitness is our passion. Check out our training platformlearning courses, or our pro package that combines everything and even includes a free kick-off consult! If you are an academy owner or coach, college coach, or sports psychologist, book a demo with us!

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