As gymnastics meet season approaches, I often see gymnasts making a handful of common mental mistakes. Often times gymnasts don't even realize they're doing these things so I've written this article to help you take note of what you might be doing that isn't serving you.
But first, let's talk about what makes competition season so different than summer training.
When you think about summer training (or the training you do when you aren't in competition season), how does it feel to you?
Exciting to learn new skills?
I bet you also had really tough workouts. But overall the emotional climate you were feeling in the gym was probably one of ease.
But now that meet season is almost here, how does the climate in the gym feel to you? Does it feel like the same "ease" of summer? Does it feel fun and relaxed?
Or does it feel more stressed? Are you feeling more pressure to learn skills?
Often there is a shift that starts to happen in the one or two months leading up to competition season that can really change the way things feel in the gym.
You might not necessarily notice it at first because it gets lumped into everything else that tends to happen at that time - back to school, exams to study for, adjusting to a new schedule, etc.
But there is a clear shift between off-season training and competition season training. And the reason this shift is important is because it's the time when gymnasts start to make some common mindset mistakes.
Here are 5 mindset mistakes you might be making as meet season approaches:
Mistake #1: Catastophizing or "What-If" Thinking
"What-if" thinking is when you spend a lot of time thinking about what might happen to you in a negative sense in the future.
Since you don't own a crystal ball and can't predict the future, "what-if" thinking is not helpful. It's a waste of mental energy. It sets you up for fears that often are unnecessary.
You might wonder:
- 'What if I don't get this skill in time for competition season?'
- 'What if I don't do well in my meets?'
- 'What if I don't make it up to the next level this season?'
- 'What if I'm not ready?'
- 'What if I'm the worst one on my team?'
- 'What if I run out of time?'
If you catch yourself going down that what-if path, here are 3 things you can do:
- Get back into the present moment
- Think about what could go right
- Find a positive distraction
You can’t control the future, so get rid of the what-if thinking. Instead, focus on what's important now and take it day by day.
It's also incredibly important to focus on what's within your control and to focus on that.
To think about what's in your control, I like to use the Bubble analogy:
Imagine yourself living in a bubble that surrounds your body. Anything in your bubble is under your control. Anything outside of your bubble is not for you to worry about.
Therefore your coaches, teammates, and parent's expectations are not within your bubble and are not under your control. On the other hand, your thoughts, effort, attitude, and mental skills are all within your control. Focus on maximizing those.
Mistake #2: Always focusing on what’s not going well instead of what IS going well
Our brains tend to find the negative in every situation. It's hard-wired that way to protect us from danger. So it's no wonder we often look for negatives.
By consciously shifting your mindset from a negative perspective to a positive one, you train your brain to look for more positives.
This takes deliberate work but it IS worth the effort.
If you're in practice and you're thinking about all the bad things that happened in that practice then you're not setting your brain up for the positives.
As hard as it is, you have to force yourself to write down a list of all the positives.
One thing you can do after every single practice is write down a list of all the good things that happened. Get in a habit of doing this!
Mistake #3: Comparing yourself to your teammates
Before competition season starts you might be learning new routines or skills. As competition season gets closer, you tend to look around more and compare yourself to your teammates.
You might wonder why your teammate learned a skill so much faster than you or you might look at her switch leap on beam and wonder why yours doesn't look as good.
This sort of comparison can lower your confidence significantly and that's not what you want right before meet season.
It's natural to compare yourself to your teammates but for most of you, it won't serve you to keep doing so as meet season approaches.
I always tell my gymnasts, "Put your blinders on and stay in your own lane!" Better yet, imagine you have a cone around your head like your dog after it goes to the vet and has surgery. You can only see what's in front of you and you can't look around.
When you focus on you and your own journey, you stop wanting what you don't have and learn how to enjoy what you attract to yourself.
Mistake #4: Letting your coach's stress get to you
As meet season approaches coaches tend to get extra stressed.
They have to get you and your teammates ready for competition so that you look like you know what you're doing and they don't look bad as coaches!
It's a lot of pressure that they're feeling and it's easy to feel their stress as a gymnast.
While there's not solution to controlling your coach's stress, you can choose not to buy into it.
Instead of feeling like you need to hold the weight of it, brush it off. It is not your heavy monkey to carry around.
Your coach can be stressed and you can ignore it. Think of your bubble again and remember that if it's not in your bubble, you don't have to tend to it.
If your coach is taking out his/her stress on you, it can be a tough situation. But that just means you have to work extra hard to go into practice with a positive attitude.
Remember that you attract the energy around you by being the energy you want to receive. Think of this time of season as a challenge for you to see if you can keep your good energy going strong despite the stress of those around you!
Mistake #5: Focusing on time
I talked about eliminating countdowns in my last blog but it's worth noting again here.
Too often gymnasts and their coaches focus on how much time is left before their first meet. Some coaches even create countdown charts in the gym. While these are meant to motivate you, most coaches don't realize they do the opposite. They can create tension and unnecessary stress as gymnasts see the number of days they have to prepare dwindling down fast.
For your own self, try to eliminate time talk.
The best way to do this is to focus on your WIN (what's important now). Stay in the present moment and take each practice as it comes by setting mini goals for each day and for each week. The more you can focus on your goals, the more you will forget about those skills that you NEED to learn by a certain date and it will make practice not only more enjoyable, but more successful!
So those were 5 mindset mistakes you might be making as your gymnastics season approaches. When you catastrophize (what might go wrong) or use "what-if" thinking, you end up focusing too much on the future and not on the present moment. Also, if you're always thinking about what's going wrong, you end up losing sight of all the things that ARE going right.
It's also common to start looking around at what your teammates are doing and to use that as a comparison tool. Unfortunately this can often back-fire and cause a dip in confidence if you feel you aren't up to the same standards as them. Another thing to be mindful of is your coach's stress level. Stay in your bubble and let their stress bounce off of you instead of you carrying the weight of it with you.
Finally, when you think about how much time you have left, you send your brain into danger mode and this causes you to make more mistakes or to get nervous unnecessarily. Focus on the present and what's important now!
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