Competing confidently at a gymnastics meet is something that many gymnasts only dream of.
They want to compete well. They hope to compete well. But sometimes nerves and pressure sabotage those goals.
Now imagine going out on the competition floor in front of judges and spectators and competing the best routine of your life (and then repeating that for all of your events).
That would be one of the greatest feelings ever because you would finally feel like your hard work and sacrifice had paid off. Am I right?
Unfortunately, many gymnasts are either plagued by nerves or doubt their ability, ultimately lacking the confidence needed to perform under pressure. And when that confidence isn't there, performance suffers which can lead a gymnast to lose even more confidence. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that brings with it never ending nerves and sometimes even dread about competing.
The great news is that not only can confidence be learned, but that having confidence at gymnastics meets is a skill that can be practiced. With practice, a gymnast can continue to develop her mental skills and learn how to hit under pressure in competition.
So how do you compete more confidently in your gymnastics meets?
Here are a few tips:
1. Determine your Ideal Mental State and Recreate It At Your Next Meet
Your Ideal Mental State is an optimal emotional state that will help you perform your best. To find your IMS, think back to a gymnastics meet that went really well for you. Maybe you competed easily or had a lot of fun. Or you scored high or hit all of your routines.
Now think about what this meet felt like to you. What was the environment like around you? What were some thoughts that you had? Were you hyped up or very calm? Did you listen to music? If so, what songs? Were you super focused or did you notice what was going on around you? Were you serious or were you joking around?
By getting curious about your best meet experience in the past, you can find clues that can help you compete better in future meets. Once you have these clues, use them to help you recreate a similar scenario at your next meet.
If you need more energy and compete better when you're hyped up, then listen to pump-up music and move your body (jumping jacks, running in place, etc). If you need things to be more calm then consider listening to slow music or no music at all. And try deep breathing or quieting your mind for a few minutes before your meet.
Knowing what works best for you and what doesn't will help you perform better in competition.
2. Stay In The Present Moment
When you're competing, it's natural to have many different thoughts swirling around in your head. You might be thinking about competing on beam while you're still on floor. Maybe you're focused on "not falling" on a certain skill in your routine that hasn't happened yet.
Or maybe you're really nervous and have a lot of "what-if" thoughts such as what if I don't place, what if I forget my routine, what if I let coach down, etc.
All of these thoughts are bringing you away from what's important in that moment. Therefore, at a gymnastics meet it's imperative that you keep yourself in the present moment and bring yourself back to it when you notice your thoughts drifting away. This requires you to be fully present and focused on what you are doing right then and there.
There are a few ways to do this. You can take some slow, deep breaths in and out while focusing on your breath. Any time you are paying attention to your breathing, you are in the present moment.
Another way to get back into the present moment is to say a word such as "Stop" or "Now" when you find your mind drifting. Doing this can snap you out of your current thoughts and bring you back into that moment.
The BEST way to stay in the present moment during your routines is to have cue words that you say to yourself during every element of your routine. While this can seem like a lot to do at first, if you practice this when you're doing your routines in practice, you will be able to say these words easily. The goal is to give your mind something to think about for every moment that you're competing. These can be words such as saying the skill you are doing in that moment or words like "hit, tight, go, push." Check out this article for more info on using cue words during your routines.
3. Check Your Body Language
One of the quickest ways to feel more confident is to put your body into a confident position. When you're nervous or unsure, you typically slump forward, look down, or have poor posture. This position signals to your brain that you are not confident.
Instead, try to become confident in your body language even if you don't feel very confident in that moment. Try rolling your shoulders back, lifting up your chin slightly, and standing up tall and proud.
The cool thing here is that the connection between body language and confidence works both ways. When you're not confident, your body language reflects this. But if you change it, your mind will feel more confident because it senses the confident body language and assumes that you're confident!
Therefore, always put yourself into a position of confident body language even if you don't feel confident!
4. Have a Plan For What To Do If Things Don't Go As Planned
You will always have tough meets where things happen that you wish didn't. You might fall or balk on a skill or forget part of your routine. Maybe you forget your grips or you slip and land on your butt.
If you make a mistake and are taken back by it without a plan for how to proceed, you will be flustered and confused. With that sort of feeling you will have a harder time recovering from any setbacks.
A bounce-back routine is something you should create ahead of time and practice first when you're not competing, such as during a regular practice. It is a way to recover quickly from a mistake during your competition or practice.
A bounce-back routine has 3 elements to it: a breath, cue words, and a physical cue. After you've made a mistake, take a deep, slow breath in and out. Then have a cue word that gets you back and focused on what you need to do next. This cue word could be something such as "Come on. Let's go." Or it could be instructional such as "tight" or "squeeze." Finally, a bounce-back routine should end with a physical cue. This is something you do to get back into your body such as a quick snap, fist pump, or stomp.
5. Remind Yourself That, Win or Lose, You Will Be Ok
One of the biggest confidence killers is when you put high expectations on yourself and don't feel like you have the resources to achieve those expectations.
While it's great to dream big and want to be as "perfect" as possible when you compete, the reality is that you will often fall short of that goal. And that's ok! No one is perfect (not even Simone Biles).
At the end of the day, life will go on. If you fall on beam or get a low score, you will be alive to tell the story and even laugh about it.
Your parents will still love you if you don't compete well. Your coaches will still be there to coach you.
Think back to a meet when you crashed and burned, figuratively. What happened when it was over? Chances are you went to grab some food afterwards or went home and slept it off. Your parents didn't stop loving you because you had a bad meet.
Always remember that what you do in gymnastics is only one part of who you are. When you don't put so much pressure on yourself to be good at that one thing, you are free to just be who you are. And that is an incredible amazing PERSON.
Competing confidently at your gymnastics meet is an important skill to learn. With confidence you are free to show off your skills and trust yourself during your routines. Luckily competing confidently is something you can practice. You can first determine your ideal mental state and use that to help you recreate the best scenario for yourself at your next meet. Then, during your meet, remember to keep your focus in the present moment. If you stop yourself from thinking about all the things that might go wrong, you will keep your confidence up.
The next thing you can do at your meets to improve your confidence is to act like a confident gymnast through your body language. When you aren't feeling confident, you're most likely showing it in the way you move in your routines. Changing your confident body language to be more confident will help you feel more confident mentally.
In order to compete more confidently, you also want to have a plan for what to do if you do make a mistake. While you hope you won't make any mistakes, chances are that some sort of mistake might happen and it's best to be prepared for it. Creating a bounce-back routine ahead of time that you practice during the week before getting to competition is a good way to learn how to refocus after a mistake in competition.
Finally, remember that if you don't do well at your meet, you are still loved! Gymnastics is something you do, not everything that you are (even though it feels like it's who you are). Your parents and coaches will still be there to support you even if the outcome is not what you hope it will be.
For some other tips on how to compete better at your gymnastics meets, check out these articles below:
If you or your gymnast needs support, in addition to the resources below I also offer one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
- Stick It Girl Academy: For competitive gymnasts who want to live into their potential and need that extra push in mental training
- 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