Gymnastics is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. In fact, many gymnasts would even argue the mental preparation is more difficult than physical training, since it can be more difficult to control. A gymnast may be able to perfectly execute her routines in practice, but if she is not mentally ready to face the crowd, judges and her own nerves, she will not perform to the best of her ability.
With so much focus on being prepared physically for a meet, we set out to see what seven Division I gymnasts had to say about how they make sure they are mentally ready to hit their set on competition day.
1. Caroline Caponi | JR | William & Mary
“To prepare mentally for a meet, I usually don’t like to think about my gymnastics too much because then I start to overthink all of my skills. I like to just focus on having fun and rely on my training to take care of the rest. I talk and joke around with my teammates and always listen to the same pump-up playlist. Before I compete each event, I do one mental set in my head and take a big, deep breath that helps me calm my meet nerves.”
2. Jasmine Estrella | JR | Temple
“I usually do almost anything to keep my mind off of competing. I have found that when I overthink my gymnastics, everything starts to go wrong. I often have music blasting while I do my makeup and hair and I try to keep a positive mentality when going into any competition. Throughout the day, I have to tell myself that I have done this long enough to be able to trust myself. If I ever find myself thinking too much, I find a new topic to distract myself. The most important thing that I do to mentally prepare before a competition is to say a prayer. After everything is done, I take time to myself to say a prayer and calm all of my nerves. “
3. Skyler Memmel | SR | Central Michigan University
“The night before a meet, I always do mental imagery of my routines and imagine myself in the arena I’ll be competing in. The day of the meet, I love getting hyped up to music and doing makeup and hair with all my teammates and setting the positive energy. Before warm-ups I go to the beam and listen to the same songs while I do a mental set/dance-through next to the beam. Then during the meet, I try to stay energized but also in the zone. I always at least do one beam routine on the floor before I go and a mental set right before I go.”
4. Mia Lord | SO | Northern Illinois University
“To mentally prepare for a meet, I like to visualize myself making perfect routines at the meet venue. I currently only compete beam, so I try to visualize myself nailing a beam routine in a competition setting at least once a day before a competition. Another thing I like to do to get in the right mindset before a meet is to remind myself that it is just another routine. We put in so much work at the gym every day during practice, so I tell myself that I have prepared for this to the best of my ability.”
5. Emily Briones | SR | Utah State University
“I basically just stay in the moment and take everything one step at a time. I wake up and focus on eating a good breakfast with the team and that’s all I think about. I’m not thinking or overthinking about the fact that I’m competing later today. I’ve found that it helps me a lot to stay as in the moment as possible. Even while I’m getting ready, I’m focusing on what music is playing and how much fun I’m having with my team. Right before warm-ups start, I say to myself what my “assignment” is for the day, which is normally just one hit beam routine and one hit floor routine. I simplify what I’m doing as much as possible. Staying in the moment and really pouring my positive energy into the team helps me get pumped and ready to go.”
6. Josalyn Ray | SR | San Jose State
“To prepare for a meet I do lots of mental imagery the day before and the day of. On the day of the meet, I do my hair and makeup while listening to the same playlist. Once I walk into the arena, I slowly start to get into competition mode and I turn everything outside off. I’m a pretty quiet competitor so I don’t talk a whole bunch or get super hyped with music, but I like to cheer a lot to distract me. Not every event is the same, but for vault, I honestly don’t think about much at all and I don’t like to talk to anyone before I go. Floor is different, I tell whoever I’m talking to what I’m going to do on each pass before I go, so sort of a verbal/mental set, I guess you could say. Beam I also speak to someone and go through every single skill that I have in my routine saying my ‘key words.’ I focus a lot on breathing and positive self-talk throughout the meet as well. Just reminding myself ‘I’m ready,’ ‘Just have fun’ and ‘You can do this,’ as well as taking deep breaths whenever I’m feeling the nerves.”
7. Haylee Roe | SR | University of Illinois
“Going into a meet, I focus more on my training leading up to it and putting myself in a meet situation during practice, so when a meet comes, I can just visualize my routines and go through my mental cues. Right before and during my routines, I usually distract myself and think about completely random things so I can just trust my training instead of stressing in the moment.”
After hearing from seven different Division I gymnasts, we can see that every gymnast has a slightly different way of preparing for a competition. Whether a gymnast visualizes her set many times or completely ignores her routine until it is time to perform doesn’t matter as long as she finds the way that works best for her, so it is a good idea to try a few different ways before settling on one.
Mental blocks, only getting one try to hit a routine, large crowds and other factors can create pressure on competition day and make it difficult to perform a routine. Gymnasts should practice being mentally ready for a meet as young as they can, because the more mental preparation they are used to, the easier it will become.