picture of Alison Arnold
TMM: Countdown to Competition Pt. 3

Tight Mind Monday: Countdown to Competition Pt. 3, Handling Pressure

Dec 15, 2017

Tight Mind Monday: Countdown to Competition Pt.3, Handling Pressure

We all feel pressure during competition. The trick is being able to control nerves so your body can do what it’s trained to do. The ability to handle pressure is like conditioning a muscle. The more you train with pressure, the better you will be able to handle it. 

First, let’s make sure some of your Tight Mind Basics are in place.

Be sure you get into your competition bubble before every routine. Imagine you are at a meet. See the sights, hear the sounds, feel the tension. Then use your breathing, brain, and body language to get into an ideal mental state for competition. Breathe in a feeling of confidence, say positive thoughts to yourself, and stand like you are ready to compete. Be sure to do a “mini salute” or full salute before you begin.  

It’s essential that your mind is tight during the routine on mental choreography or cue words. Your words should be rhythmic, robotic, and consistent. Say these words every day in practice and, of course, at the competition.

Finally, pressure usually comes from focusing too much on results. When you worry about hitting,= and not making mistakes, you are bound to feel anxious. Starting this week, focus on things that are in your control. I call these focus points your MITs: Most Important Things. Your MITs are things like going all-out, being a team leader, enjoying your sport, and competing with confidence. When you focus on things that are in your direct control, you become less nervous. Pick one a day to focus on during practice.

Then, test yourself as much as possible! Of course your coaches will give you pressure sets, but the more you practice with pressure, the more your “pressure muscle” becomes stronger. Put pressure on yourself as much as possible. Create scenarios before every routine that could possibly occur at a meet. 

For example, you fell in warmup and now need to hit or you need a great routine to qualify for regionals. You can also create challenges with your teammates. Challenge a teammate that if one of you has a bad routine this turn you will both add an extra one, or three of each missed skill. Have fun with these challenges and be creative!

Remember the more your body gets used to pressure, the better you will handle it. Practice your tools and test them every day during workout. Train your pressure muscle to be strong; it can handle anything! 

Alison Arnold, Ph.D. has been a peak performance consultant to USA Gymnastics since 1997. For more information on Doc Ali and her work, go to www.headgameswebcamp.com or www.headgamesworld.com