In sport psychology, there is a difference between a practice mindset and a competition mindset.
In this article, I'll explain the difference between the two and let you know why it's important for your gymnast to be able to switch to a competition mindset when she competes at her meets.
So what do I mean by practice mindset and competition mindset?
A practice mindset is when your gymnast is learning skills and trying to get them to be perfect. She's thinking about her form. She's focused on what she needs to do in order to make her skills. There is thought and intention behind what she's doing. If something isn't right, she'll think about her corrections and try again. Your gymnast is aiming for perfection. She's analyzing mistakes. She trying to get things right.
A competition mindset is the exact opposite. It's when your gymnast trusts herself, her training, and her coaches. She ideally performs her skills without thinking or overthinking. Skills feel effortless and she just lets go even if her skills or routines are not perfect. She trusts her training. She trusts herself and her routines. Things feel automatic and she is relaxed. Ultimately she is committed to the decisions she makes.
All gymnasts can find at least one meet in their gymnastics journey when they competed effortlessly and just let things happen.
Here are some questions to help your gymnast remember back to when she might have had a competition mindset:
- Think of a meet when you competed with trust.
- When was it?
- Was it an important meet or a not so important meet?
- How was your training right before that meet?
- What did you do the morning of your meet to get ready for it?
- When you were competing, what did it feel like?
- Were you thinking about your routines or did you just let them happen
- Were you happy?
- Were you having fun?
- What were you focused on?
Often what happens is that a gymnast hangs out in a practice mindset when she goes to competition. She might overthink her routines. She might not trust her decisions. She might try too hard to do well. And when this happens, she won't perform as well as she could and should.
There is usually some sort of breakdown in trust that happens that causes your gymnast to go back into a practice mindset. Possible reasons for a breakdown in trust include:
- thinking too much
- trying too hard to perform well
- trying too hard to be perfect
- trying to understand why you made the mistake
- lacking confidence
- afraid of performing poorly
- focusing on scores
So how does a gymnast switch from a practice mindset to a competition mindset?
She has utter trust in herself and her abilities!
While this might be easier said than done, one way to have trust is for your gymnast to examine common situations when she might have a breakdown in trust, and then work to come up with solutions for how to get back into a competition mindset in each of those cases.
Your gymnast can ask herself, when does she lose trust at meets? What are some situations that happen that cause her to question her trust and go into a practice mindset?
For example, gymnasts often lose trust when the equipment at meets feels different than what they are used to. Whether it's that the floor is extra springy or hard, the beam is squishy or slippery, the bars don't bend, or the spring board has no give, these are all things that can cause your gymnast to lose trust in her skills.
Other things that might happen to cause your gymnast to lose trust in herself is when she has a bad warmup. Maybe she is having trouble making her routines in warmup. Or maybe she fell on her last try before time was up. Or perhaps she felt uneasy about throwing a skill and now she knows she has to compete it on her next turn.
Even still, gymnasts might put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well at a certain meet (like Sectionals, Regionals, etc) and this can cause them to overthink or try too hard. Your gymnast might be extra focused on hitting a certain score.
If your gymnast can identify possible sources of a breakdown in her trust in herself, she can come up with a plan for how to handle these situations.
If it's something like equipment that is throwing her off, she can feel that the equipment is different and adjust her skills during warmup. This might mean taking less of a punch in her tumbling passes if the floor is extra spring. Or she might chalk up extra for beam if she knows the beam feels slippery.
If she has a bad warmup, she can remember back to other times when she didn't warmup well but ended up having good routines. Or she might practice a skill that she fell on during warmup on the line on the floor or close her eyes and imagine herself completing it successfully.
If she's at a big meet and is feeling the pressure, she might take some deep breaths and remember back to how she felt when she was competing at a less important meet. She might need some calming music or even to jog out her extra energy.
The important thing for your gymnast to remember is that things will be different at meets than in practice! There is never a completely perfect meet because there are too many variables and factors that can change. This means your gymnast has to have a plan for how to handle those things so that when they do go wrong, she knows how to trust herself again.
At the end of the day, the best way for your gymnast to compete her best is to have trust in herself and her training. When she competes, it's not the time to overthink her skills and routines or to try too hard. Rather it's time to just perform with joy and confidence.
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