Diving: Tom Daley – Lost Move Syndrome

In a few months time. Plymouth’s Tom Daley will be competing in his first Olympic Games. At the age of thirteen, Tom is already European Diving Champion. Clearly this is a talented young sportsman with a bright future ahead of him. And one with an abundance of mental strength.

For as well as having to deal with his fathers cancer, he has overcome a psychological problem that troubles both divers, gymnasts and trampolinists. It is known as Lost Move Syndrome. It means that the performer has forgotten how to execute a specific move.

Tom describes it in this way: “Two weeks before Germany, I hit the board. I then landed flat. I was going through a really bad patch because I’d grown a lot. I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. I just scared myself and thought, ‘Am I here too soon?’ I got to that competition and froze. I couldn’t do it.”

Not knowing where you are, in the middle of your routine, is how Lost Move Syndrome manifests itself. It can be frightening for a performer. To the point where many young athletes are not able to overcome LMS and give up their respective sports. It can be a debilitating problem.

But what causes it? In diving, gymnastics or trampolining, the complexity and difficulty of the routine being attempted, must be matched by the quality of mental preparation. The mental preparation creates the pathways or instructions for the body to subsequently follow. The clearer the mental preparation, the better the outcome.

If a performer attempts a high-difficulty routine, mentally unprepared, unfocused, or tired, then the mental pathways may not be etched clearly or distinctly enough. What then happens, is the performer can become slightly confused. They are moving at high speed. Their body, lacking sufficient high-quality mental information, then does its own thing. It may take a different path to the one intended. This is because the automatic systems take over.

The performers instinct, always on the alert to keep them from damage, pain and harm, raises the alarm. It reads this confusion as trouble, and sends out warning messages. Panic and shock can then take hold. This panic creates a chemical release, that floods the performers system. The mental pathways, between mind and body, that should be pristine and clear, become lost in the flood.

The state of trust between performer and their instinct has been broken. Thus, when they try to perform again, their confidence has been shattered. And they cannot find the move they tried to execute, because of the shock. Thus Lost Move Syndrome takes hold.

The performer fears the syndrome happening again, because the after-effects of the shock are still in their system. If they do try the move, they will often pull out before execution. That is because their instinct is feeling the lack of confidence in the performer, and will not let them execute the move, as it fulfils its function of keeping the performer safe.

The harder they try, the more frustrated they get. The more frustrated they get, the more pressure they put on themselves to resolve the problem. Until, they give up. Or they discover the solution.

If Tom Daley broke through his own Lost Move Syndrome without professional help, then he is one special talent. For it says, that he can control his own mind, in creating the outcomes that he wants. And that is the hallmark of a true champion.

Posted in Diving Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.