Doc Ali's Tight Mind Monday: Calming Competition Nerves


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Doc Ali’s Tight Mind Monday 3-13-17: Calming Competition Nerves

As competition season heat up, it’s even more important that you control your nerves. it’s good to be excited in a good way, but when it gets too much, excessive nervousness can cause tightness in the body and negativity in the mind. In this Tight Mind Monday we will look at some tips and tools to help you get into the perfect mental state for competition. An old Japanese proverb states, “If you fear the cyclone, don’t run away from it. Simply run towards it and find the still eye”. So how we can do that? How can we find the place of stillness amidst the chaos of a big competition?

Here are your Tight Mind Tips:

Before the Meet:  

The most important cure for competition nerves is preparedness. When you feel like you have put in quality numbers, your mind and body relaxes, allowing you to do what you’ve trained. Before the competition, be sure you have put in a good number of hit routines in your mental confidence bank. Not just turns but quality turns anchoring proper technique. Also, prepare your mind for the competition by putting yourself in a competition mindset before every practice routine. Visualize the meet venue, hear the sounds, feel the feelings, imagine the judges and even salute the routine. The more practice feels like competition, the more competition will feel like practice.

At the Meet:  

Utilize your breathing as a tool to let go of excess nerves and pressure. Breathe in confidence through your nose and exhale stress through your mouth. Really focus on exhaling, or blowing out, stress, over-trying, and worrying about outcomes. You may even try to bring a slight smile to your face. When you smile the muscles in your face actually send messages to your brain, indicating everything is ok.  

Use your body to shake out, jump out, clench out, or dance out extra tension. Sometimes we need to actually move our bodies in order to release pressure and stress. We have all seen dogs or other animals “shake off” stress or anxiety. Once they are done shaking, the stress is gone from their body. We need to do that too. If you are nervous at the meet, find something you can do physically to help let go of any stress that might be causing excessive nerves.

Control the controllables and let the rest go. We’ve talked before how putting too much pressure on scores, places, or qualifying will make you too nervous at the competition. So remember, to put your attention and effort on what you can control. Going all out, commanding the apparatus, and showing off your routines are all good things to focus on and in your control.  

Practice these tools every day in practice and find that eye of the storm. When you find the place off presence in the chaos, the routines will take care of themselves.  

Alison Arnold Ph.D. has been a mental toughness consultant to USA Gymnastics since 1997. If you have questions or want more information about her work go to