What is one of the most important characteristics a gymnast needs in practice and competition? Easy, confidence. You may be the strongest, most graceful, most powerful athlete in the gym, but if you’re not confident in yourself and your physical ability, you’ll have trouble reaching your goals. During competitions, if you feel like any external factors (the crowd, competitors, judges, etc.) make you nervous, you will always be at their mercy, not having any real control. You need to take the control back! If you work on your mental game and improving your confidence just like you work on perfecting your gymnastic skills, your competition mindset and performance will soar.
1. Keep your pre-meet routine the same.
Do you have a consistent routine that you go through day-in and day-out before practice? This could include: listening to a particular song, eating a certain meal, or fixing your hair in a precise manner. It’s important to treat every pre-competition time period just like you would practice- keep the routine the same! You will stay much more calm relying on a consistent pre-meet ritual, continuing to approach meets in the very same way you would practice. The familiarity of your rituals will always help you stay calm and comfortable.
2. Control your pre-competition routine, mentally.
One of the most important components of a competition is the period of time before the meet actually begins. The manner in which you carry yourself, the thoughts you think, and future scenarios you imagine can all dictate the outcome of the competition, even before it begins. You will never be able to calm down those out-of-control nerves unless you can learn to control your mental game and focus before the meet. Focus on positive thoughts, positive attitudes, and positive outcomes. Imagine yourself nailing your skill on beam, tumbling with confidence and power on floor, and sticking your vault landing. Visualization tactics are one of the strongest tools an athlete can utilize, so think positively!
3. Concentrate on the process, not outcomes.
When gymnasts allow their focus or concentration to jump ahead to the future, or drift back to the past, the result is always the same, an increase in their nervousness. During a meet, you’ve got to stay cool and calm during your down time and in the routines, so focus on the NOW. This means, in the time leading up to your competition routine, don’t focus on what MIGHT happen, stay loose and relaxed, keeping your concentration on the moment that you’re in right then. When you’re finally in action, you want to focus on your present moment, taking your routines one skill at a time.
4. Recognize when you lose focus, and bring yourself back.
When you lose focus during a meet, you can usually recognize yourself thinking of the future, or drifting back to past mistakes or failures. When you feel this happen, quickly return your concentration to the now. While it’s normal for everyone to lose focus at times, it’s a break in concentration that you don’t immediately catch that will raise levels of anxiety, sabotaging your performance.
5. Keep your focus on you, your job, and your performance.
There is one sure way to increase your nerves during a meet- letting your focus drift to anyone or anything other than yourself! These include: your competitors, who’s watching in the crowd, who might be disappointed in you, how well your teammates are doing in comparison to you, what your coach is thinking, etc. Staying focused on yourself and your own performance will definitely keep you calm and confident. This means never, NEVER, compare yourself to others! Comparison will always make you too nervous to compete at your best, and it’s an avoidable anxiety that should never have a place in your mind. Everyone has their own strengths they bring to a competition, and yours are unique and perfect!
6. Fully accept that ‘the problem’ is never actually the problem, but ‘the problem’ is how you react to the problem at hand.
Now, let’s explain what this means… Getting nervous before a meet is not so much a real problem. The REAL problem is how you react to your nervousness. Many gymnasts experience these pre-competition nerves and react in negative ways- “I’m so nervous! I can’t do this!” Instead, when you feel the pre-meet jitters arising, remember that the problem lies in how you react to these feelings. Being nervous is normal, all athletes gets nervous, but you need to control your nerves in order to perform at your best.
7. Positive self-talk.
One of the most important components to staying calm during competitions is your mental game. I can’t stress enough how important it is to remain positive about yourself, your surrounding, and your situations, despite any problems that may be evident. You are the one in control, which means you’re in charge of your positive self-talk through the pre-meet, meet, and post-meet portions of your day (and everyday!) Be proud of things you accomplished, and take a lesson from things that didn’t quite go the way you imagined- never get down on yourself.
8. Focus on the things you CAN control.
One of the major causes of stress and nervousness in a competition is focusing on the uncontrollables before or during the performance. Before a meet, if you catch yourself thinking, “What if this happens… What if I fall on this… What if.. What if… What if…” Well, STOP! There are many things that are out of your control during competitions, so relax, and focus on things you are in charge of, like yourself, your performance, your mental stance.
9. Slow down and trust your training.
You have been in the gym for hours and hours practicing these skills and routines, so trust your physical ability. Think about times when you nailed every handstand in your bar routine, hit every series on beam, and stuck your bar dismount- you’ve done it in practice, so you CAN do it in competition!
10. Have fun!
When you’re standing before the judge, waiting for the salute so you can begin your routine, feeling nervousness creep into your mind… remember why you’re standing there. Are you competing in gymnastics because you wanted an activity that raised your stress levels? No! You began gymnastics for the adrenaline that rushes through your body as you try a new skill for the first time. You started this sport for the feeling of utter excitement that overwhelms you as you stick your landing after a flawless routine. You chose gymnastics to set goals, and feel pride after you accomplish them with hard work and determination. Think about why you’re standing on the competition floor in front of your coaches and a crowd, and enjoy the moment!