As you head into competition season, it's easy to get pre-season jitters in gymnastics. You might be thinking about all the what-ifs or whether you're ready for your gymnastics season or how to manage all the big expectations you have for yourself.
These are all common feelings as meet season approaches in gymnastics.
But what happens when competition season starts and you're STILL really nervous to compete?
In fact, maybe you have a love-hate relationship with meets. You LOVE doing gymnastics and being able to show off all the skills you've learned but you HATE the nerves you feel during your meet.
If this is you, I've got some tips for how to conquer your nerves.
Here are 6 ways to conquer nerves in gymnastics:
Number 1: Listen to your negative thoughts and then talk back to them
Often you'll feel nervous because you have self-doubt. Your own voice might be telling you loudly in your mind things like "You're not good enough" or "You can't do this." While it's always a good idea to work towards changing your negative talk into a more positive form of self-talk, you can't always do that in the moment.
Instead, talk back to your internal voice. Hear what it has to say and then say words that make you feel better. For example, if your inner voice says "You're not ready" you might say "Yes, I am. I've been training and working hard in the gym." That little bit of change in the way you speak to yourself will help you feel less nervous and more confident when it counts.
Again, the goal is not to get rid of all the negative self-talk in that moment. Instead it's important to acknowledge your negativity while reaching for a thought that feels more empowering in that moment.
Number 2: Choose courage
Being nervous in gymnastics is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it's how you respond to those nerves that can affect your routines in a negative way. If you feel nerves and then use that information to decide you can't do it, you're letting nerves get the best of you.
Instead, choose courage. Decide to be brave. Acknowledge that you are scared or unsure about your routines. And then decide to be brave anyway. Summon your inner superhero and choose to "fake it til you make it." By being brave you are teaching your brain that it's ok to feel fear. And that you don't have to flee when you are afraid. Instead you can stay and fight your "battles"with courage.
While you don't necessarily want to always feel like you're fighting against nerves, sometimes courage is just what you need to get through them.
Number 3: Switch how you think about nerves
Nerves can feel scary. When you get nervous you can immediately worry that something is wrong and this can affect your confidence in gymnastics.
Instead, you can associate your nerves with doing something important. When you feel nervous you can immediately tell yourself that you're getting out of your comfort zone and doing something that is going to help you grow as a gymnast.
If you always did the things you felt comfortable with, you probably would never get nervous. So nerves mean you're trying and that's a good thing. Whether you mess up, fail, or fall on your routines, you are pushing yourself to be better.
With a growth mindset those nerves can be an important indicator that you are leaning into failure and the uncomfortable parts of gymnastics in order to become a better gymnast.
Also, if you take those butterfly feelings that you have and label them 'excitement' you will learn to embrace your nerves instead of dread them.
Number 4: Breathe
Breathing is the number one way to calm nerves in gymnastics. When you get nervous it's because your brain is sending your body into a fight-flight-or-freeze response. Your heart starts beating faster, your palms and feet get sweaty, and your breathing gets shallow.
When you experience this response most often it will cause you to get more nervous or scared. But when you immediately breathe and take deliberate slow breaths, you will turn off that fight-flight-or-freeze response and allow your body to calm down again.
Breathing works wonders. Remember if you have the time to slow down and take big breaths, it means you aren't in any danger according to your brain. So always lean into your breathing whenever you can.
Number 5: Remember your strengths
Nerves can make us doubt our abilities. They can also make others (i.e. judges) see us as less skilled since often having nerves in our routines means more wobbles, less confident body language, and a lot of looking down.
When you get nervous, it's important to have a mental list of your strengths to think about. Run through that list and remind yourself of all the ways in which you're qualified to be competing. For example, things like: "I've been working hard" or "I have a really great smile" or "I am great at sticking my landings."
The best way to conquer nerves is to build up confidence but since confidence-building takes time, instead you can focus on all the things you do well when you're feeling nervous at your meets.
Number 6: Work on your weaknesses
While you can't work on your weaknesses in the moment of your nerves, you CAN use your nerves as a clue as to what you need to work on in the future. Again, confidence and nerves go hand-in-hand. If you're really nervous, it not only means you have room to grow in your gymnastics skills, it also means there is something you aren't feeling confident about.
It might be that your form needs more work or that your thoughts and self-talk are very negative. Or you might be comparing yourself to other gymnasts or falling into the trap of "what-if" thinking. Perhaps you don't feel like you know your routines well enough or that your dismounts need polishing.
Use your nerves as clues to what weaknesses you need to work on in the gym. And then work on those in between your gymnastics meets so that the next time you go to compete you feel more confident.
Competing in gymnastics can bring up big nerves for many of you. Just remember that nerves themselves are not a bad thing. It's how you interpret those nerves that is important.
First, allow your negative thoughts to "speak" and then talk back to them with more encouraging and powerful words. Second, even though you're nervous, choose courage. Decide you are going to be brave in that moment. It's also important that you switch how you think of nerves. Get excited that you are nervous because it means you are growing and stretching yourself into something bigger than you've been.
Take mental note of all of your strengths so you can focus on that list when you're feeling nervous at your meets. Finally, use your nerves as valuable information. Ask yourself what you need to work on so you feel more confident and less nervous and then work on those things in practice.
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