Gymnastics Competition Matrix - Crush It In Competition

 

As meet season approaches for many gymnasts, it's important for gymnasts to have all the skills (both physical and mental) they need in order to compete their best. 

Ideally a gymnast has been in the gym training and getting her physical skills ready so that she can approach meet season with confidence. Therefore this article is going to focus solely on the mental skills part of the equation.

While I've talked about Competing Your Best and Conquering Nerves in the past, one thing I haven't talked about is how to take negative behaviors in competition and change them into more positive experiences. The goal is for your gymnast to be able to achieve the things that are important to her at her meets while not letting negative thought patterns and behaviors get in the way.

In this article I'm going to be talking about a Gymnastics Competition Matrix, or a way for your gymnast to notice the unhelpful things that have been going on in competition (ex: nerves, falling on beam, etc) that aren’t helping her achieve what she desires. 

The Gymnastics Competition Matrix is an adaptation of the ACT Matrix used in behavioral psychology.

I've also created a download that you can grab to help your gymnast work through this Gymnastics Competition Matrix on her own so she can identify the things that are standing in her way. You can download it by clicking on the image below:

Gymnastics Competition Matrix - Stick It Girl Blog

Here's the basic version of this Gymnastics Competition Matrix:

Imagine this scenario. Your gymnast is competing beam at a meet. Soon after starting her routine, she falls. Stunned, she hops back up and continues on with her routine, still not sure what happened. She feels her face get hot from embarrassment and she's now rushing the routine to get it over with. Thoughts of negativity are racing through her mind as she finishes her beam routine and salutes the judges at the end.

All she can think about is how this always happens to her in competition. She's disappointed and frustrated because this is not how she hoped this meet would go. She doesn't understand why she can't compete as well as she practices. She takes this bad feeling with her into the other events and ends up having a less than stellar competition…yet again. This gymnast repeats this unwanted pattern of behavior over and over at subsequent meets over the season. While she knows she wants to do better, she doesn’t necessarily know how to change her results.

The Competition Matrix is a way of giving your gymnast the observation tools she needs to notice what is actually happening during her competition and to be able to identify the things that are hindering her success. From there she can work towards changing her behaviors and thoughts to reflect what she does want to happen.

Part 1: Identifying What Negative Behavioral Barriers Are Standing In The Way Of Her Success

The first step is for your gymnast to reflect on and identify what negative behaviors keep happening in competition that are getting in the way of her success. Some examples might be:

  • Does she get really nervous?
  • Does she doubt herself?
  • Does she fall all the time in competition?
  • Does she get mad at herself when she doesn't get the score she wants?
  • Does she have mental blocks in competition? 

It's also important for her to notice if she is running away from or avoiding uncomfortable feelings through her actions (such as rushing to finish a beam routine after she's fallen to avoid further embarrassment).

Part 2: Identifying What Thoughts And Feelings or Internal Obstacles Are Coming Up In Competition

Once your gymnast has these behavioral barriers identified, she can then reflect on what thoughts and feelings are underlying these negative behavioral patterns. Does she get really nervous because she doesn't believe she can do well? Does she fall on beam because she's focused on "not falling" instead of on what she needs to do to compete a clean routine? Does she get mad at herself because she's setting strict expectations that are impossible to attain? 

It's important that she find the thought patterns and feelings that keep coming up when she has these negative experiences in competition so that she can target them and then change them in the future.

 

Part 3: Identifying Her Values or How She Wants To Show Up In Competition Instead

The next step is for your gymnast to identify how she wants to show up in competition instead. What’s important to her? Is it being confident? Is it competing good routines? Is it showing up as a champion? Is it staying on beam? Is it flipping her vault? 

She can think about this for a moment and imagine herself being the gymnast she wants to be. How would that feel? How would she act? 

Based on how she wants to show up, she can then think about different actions she can take to become the gymnast she wants to become.

 

Part 4: An Action Plan or Things Your Gymnast Can Do To Show Up As Her Best Self In Competition

Now that she knows how she wants to show up, she can come up with an action plan to become the gymnast she wants to be in competition. 

  • Does she need to practice breathing techniques to help calm her nerves in competition? 
  • Does she need to use cue words to keep her mind focused during her routines? 
  • Does she need to practice her confident body language? 
  • Does she need to do more run-throughs of her routines in practice?

These action steps are things she can focus on during practice and in the process, remind herself that by doing these things, she is moving towards the gymnast she wants to become rather than running away from the gymnast she wants to avoid being. 

Noticing feelings

One of the keystones of this Gymnastics Competition Matrix is for your gymnast to have the ability to notice her thoughts and feelings. You can see this in the middle of the Gymnastics Competition Matrix. Your gymnast can do this through mindfulness, quiet reflection, meditation, or other strategies that can bring her into a noticing state of mind.

Are her thoughts and actions an indicator of what she wants to happen or are those things moving her away from her goals and towards coping behaviors that are not so effective? 

For example, a gymnast might reflect on her recent meet and ask herself what thoughts she was having when she competed the beam routine that she fell on or scored poorly on. When she was competing her routine, was she thinking of thoughts she didn't want to happen ("What if I fall?") or was she focused on what she did want to happen (using her cue words and staying focused on one skill at a time)? 

This reflection can give your gymnast an idea of what is helpful to her in competition and what is not.

Remember, noticing feelings is different than judging them.

This noticing isn't meant to be judgmental. In fact, it's the opposite. She is simply observing the things that happen when she thinks about being in competition.   

Just like a dog sitting in a window often watches cars pass by, that's what noticing feelings is like. It's this ability to simply observe a thought or action without assigning meaning to it (or chasing after it). It's really important for your gymnast to develop this awareness since she cannot change or improve upon something that she doesn't recognize. 

Another way to reflect is for your gymnast to ask herself if she’s moving toward what she wants or away from what she doesn't want?

This is where her success in competition might not come like she wants it to. If she's constantly trying to avoid feelings of anxiety or fear instead of focusing on her goals and dreams, she won't get the outcome she wants.

Understanding in which direction she's moving, will help your gymnast identify different behaviors she can do to help her move closer to what she wants.

For example, if she notices that she's focused on not wanting to fall, she can then come up with cue words that can help her focus on her skills and ways to compete a clean routines. These might be things like "tight" or "squeeze" or it could be putting a different cue word to every element of her routine.

It’s also important that your gymnast notices what's happening in her body.

Her body will react to what she's feeling. Is she tensing up her shoulders? Are her motions feeling tight or forced? Is she holding her breath? Is she using non-confident body language?

 

Again, the goal of this Gymnastics Competition Matrix is to give your gymnast the tools to notice what is happening to her and to then be able to have a perspective shift. If she notices that she's moving away from what she wants, she can then work on strategies to move her towards what she wants more often. The goal, overall, is for her to be deliberate about her actions in competition so that she can live her gymnastics life on purpose, instead of by default.

This is also a great tool for gymnastics coaches to use with their gymnasts to identify unhelpful thought patterns or behaviors that are hurting their gymnastics performances. 

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If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.

 

Gymnastics Mental Blocks Guidebook for Parents

 

Helpful Links:

 

 

Gymnastics Mental Coach Anna Kojac, M.Ed.

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