Every gymnast wants to know how to compete her best at her gymnastics meets.
I've already written quite a few articles on this topic such as:
But I still have a few more tips I want to give you.
Here they are in no particular order:
Number 1: Remind yourself that competition is nothing like practice.
Many coaches will tell you to think of competition like practice. They want you to imagine that you are just doing another routine and that it's no big deal.
Well personally I don't think you should think of a meet as though it's another practice. I think you need to be prepared and ready to face the different feelings you are going to enter into.
You have nerves, you are on center stage for all to watch, and you are working on unfamiliar equipment. This does NOT feel like practice.
I remember going into meets where the equipment felt strangely different. The floor wasn't as springy (or was too springy), the vault runway was too short, the beams were hard, and the bars felt stiff.
This is the reality of competing on different equipment at a different gym.
It WILL feel different.
So instead of thinking of it as another practice, you need to be prepared to make some mental adjustments when you get to your meet.
When you go to do your warmup and things just feel off because the equipment is throwing you off, you need to be able to refocus.
You need to be able to readjust your mental thoughts and language to help get you through those moments. Otherwise you might just throw in the towel and give up.
So first of all, expect that when you get to a meet, things will feel different.
Then when you feel this uncomfortable feeling, remind yourself "This is supposed to feel different. That's ok."
Then as you are doing your warmup routines, instead of freaking out because the equipment feels so different, you need to coach yourself into going "Ok, so this is what it is going to feel like today. What adjustments do I need to make?"
And then you make those adjustments as needed.
Remember, it's not going to feel exactly like it does in practice.
Number 2: Find your ideal competition state and re-create it as best you can.
Your ideal competition state is a variety of different things, such as the way you feel during peak performance, the environment you create, and your mental state during a past competition in which you did your best. This ideal competition state may or may not be the same as your ideal practice state. In other words, what you need during practice to hit your skills is often very different than you need in competition. That's because the two circumstances are very different.
To find your ideal competition state, start by remembering a competition when you felt ready, confident, and performed well.
How did you feel during that competition?
Excited, happy, mellow, confident, energized, relaxed, focused, pumped up?
How did you interact with your teammates and coaches and parents?
Did you talk to them a lot? Very little?
What were some thoughts you had during your competition?
Were you thinking positive thoughts or no thoughts?
What was your body language when you were feeling your best?
How did you stand and walk when you were competing?
What are the perfect thoughts for you that take you into your ideal mental state. "I can do this. This is easy for me." or "Just like practice. No big deal."
The answers to these questions define your ideal mental state for competition.
Once you figure this ideal mental state out, your job is to do everything you can to recreate this ideal mental state at your next competition.
Number 3: Breathe to get into competition mindset
I've talked about how important breath is to calming nerves and to turning off the fight-or-flight response that can get hypersensitive before a competition.
If you're breathing fast you will feel more nervous. If you can slow down your breathing, though, you can start to feel better and more confident almost immediately.
During your competition, you should take many moments to close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you do this, recite a mantra that feels good to you: "I've got this" or "Slow and steady" or "Cool and calm." Repeat words that reflect your ideal mental state.
Number 4: Take the Pressure Off Yourself
One of the biggest reasons gymnasts buckle in competition is because of the pressure they feel.
Pressure comes in many forms - pressure from your own expectations, pressure from the expectations of others, or an actual time pressure where the clock is ticking and you have to warmup in a short amount of time before your event or when you went to a before you felt ready to compete.
While pressure can sometimes cause gymnasts to step up to the challenge and perform well, for many gymnasts this isn't the case.
One way to take the pressure off yourself during meets is to find one thing to focus on during each event. This one thing cannot be your score, the judges, or what place you want to get.
It should be a small "task" or challenge you want to work on. Perhaps, for beam, it might be that you want to see if you can get the number of wobbles on beam to be under 5 for your entire routine (or pick a number that is slightly less than what you normally bobble in meets).
For floor, it might be that you see if you can smile throughout your ENTIRE routine (tumbling included!).
The idea is to take your mind off the outcome of your routine and onto the process of it which is elements of the actual "doing" of your routine.
Number 5: Evaluate your Performance So You Can Improve
The difference between gymnasts who compete well in competition versus those who don't is that the better gymnasts take time to evaluate their performance to find places they can improve.
If you have evaluated your past meet from the week before, then you can find those places at your meet that you can work on for this meet.
Did you do enough mental preparation before the meet?
Did you eat the right amount of food?
Did you focus on the right things?
Figure out which routines you did the best on and then get curious. Figure out what helped you compete well on those events.
Those are 5 tips for how to compete your best at your gymnastics meet. First, it's important to remind yourself that competition is nothing like practice so you should approach it with a different mentality. Then you should think back to your best competition and remember what environment was the most helpful to you and recreate that. Make sure you focus on using your breath to help you relax and calm your nerves.
It's also important to take the pressure off of yourself to do well. When you compete with a lot of expectations to do well you end up competing tense. Instead focus on one thing during your entire meet so you are focused and your thoughts don't wander. Finally, always look back at your competitions and see what areas you can improve upon and what areas you can repeat for your next meet.
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