Do you suffer from nerves in gymnastics?
Recently I had a gymnast ask how to get out of her head for meets. Like most gymnasts, she suffers from nerves and they affect the way she performs at her gymnastics meets.
I'm going to give you 3 things you have to do to get out of your head and calm your nerves for gymnastics meets.
But first, let me ask you...
Are you a gymnast who has a similar reaction to nerves?
Do nerves keep you from performing at your best?
Do you practice WAY better than you compete?
If so, today I'm going to tell you something that might blow your mind...
Nerves in gymnastics are good!!
Yes, I said it! GYMNASTICS. NERVES. ARE. GOOD.
You might wonder what parallel universe I'm coming from here and argue that nerves are definitely bad.
In many ways you'd be right.
But I'm going to tell you this: It's not nerves that are bad. It's the way you respond to nerves that can be bad.
So let me ask you?
When you start to feel nervous does your mind immediately start to go to a negative place?
Do you feel nerves and then immediately think "Oh no, I can't do this" or "I'm going to fall" or "I'm not ready"?
If so, then you're not using nerves to your advantage. You're being spooked by them and that IS detrimental to your performance.
3 Things To Do To Calm Your Nerves in Gymnastics
In order to avoid being taken over by nerves in gymnastics, there are three things you can do.
1. Acknowledge that Nerves in Gymnastics Are Not Bad
Like I said earlier, nerves are not bad but your reaction to them is. Nerves, in fact, are a way for your body to react to a threatening situation and get your body primed for maximal performance.
In the early days when we were living on this earth as cave people, it was important for our bodies to be able to respond quickly to dangerous situations such as when animal predators attacked us. This is where the fight-or-flight response became important to our survival.
Your body needed to gather all its resources quickly so that it could either put those resources towards helping you flee from a situation as fast as possible or help you fight as strong as you could to defend yourself and survive.
Your body would pump in adrenaline to help you move faster, mobilize more strength in your muscles, and temporarily stop digestive processes to conserve energy. This explains why your heart races (heart muscle is pumping faster and stronger to get more blood to your muscles), your breath quickens (getting you ready to run as fast as you can), and you start sweating (cools down your body for more efficiency).
Nowadays the only predators we are being attacked by in the gym are the thoughts in our own mind! We no longer have to fight or flee from tigers. So we need to let our brains know that there is no threat.
One way to do this is that as soon as you start to feel nerves creeping in, you start reframing them in your mind.
What you can teach yourself to say in this instance is:
"Nerves Are Good. They are Helping Me To Do Better."
Repeat that phrase over and over until your mind starts to believe that the threat has passed.
2. Breathe Away Your Gymnastics Nerves
After you acknowledge that nerves in gymnastics are not bad and repeat the phrases above a few times, your job is to calm down your body systems. You do this by taking deep breaths.
This step is the single most important step when you experience nerves because it has an immediate effect on your brain.
If you were in the middle of a fight with a tiger in prehistoric days, would you stop to take deep breaths?
You'd run out there as fast as you could or be prepared to attack and fight.
So when you feel nerves coming on and you take the time to deliberately breathe, you teach your mind that there is no threat.
That almost immediately signals to your brain that everything is ok and you can begin to settle down your nerves.
Any time you stop and take those deep slow breaths your body starts to calm itself down.
3. Have a Plan B
Most people don't believe in a Plan B but I'm a big advocate. One reason nerves can get so big in gymnastics, especially at meets, is that there are so many unknowns.
One big unknown is how you will do on your routine and/or if you will fall.
When you plan ahead and think about what you would do if you did fall (or if you balked on a skill or if you went over on time on your routine or if you were off the beat of your music on floor), then you can take a deep breath and know that you are prepared for whatever comes your way.
If you are worried about falling on beam, then come up with a plan for what you would do if did fall.
Would you take a deep breath and then mount again?
Would you close your eyes, repeat a mantra, and then open your eyes, smile, and go again?
If you balked on a skill, would you repeat the skill or keep going without doing it?
Those are three things you need to do to help you calm your nerves in your gymnastics meets. You first have to acknowledge that nerves are not bad and repeat the mantra "Nerves are good. They're helping my body do better." Then you have to take your deep belly breaths. Finally, you have to prepare yourself with a Plan B so you can take on anything that comes your way and ease your nerves.
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Resources: Get gymnastics downloads to help your gymnast work on her mental skills in gymnastics
- Mental Health Training for Gymnasts: Help your gymnast learn about her brain and the fight-flight-or-freeze response.
- Free Facebook Group for Moms of Gymnasts: Join this group to chat with other gymnastics moms and get tips for how to help your gymnast navigate through the mental ups and downs of gymnastics