It is no question that many gymnasts struggle with nerves before and during a gymnastics meet.
Nerves, if not managed properly, can have a detrimental effect on a gymnast's mindset and ultimately on her performance.
Nerves can also make her view competitions as negative events causing her to dread competition and eventually avoid gymnastics altogether.
It makes sense, then, to find a technique to help calm your gymnast's nerves when she feels her anxiety (another word for nerves) creeping in.
Calming Nerves in Gymnastics is Simpler Than You Think
In general, the most effective and number one way to calm nerves is via proper breathing. And yet is the most underutilized tool in gymnastics mental training!
People hear the word "breathing" and think 'I know how to breathe' or 'Breathing is too simple to work.'
But despite its simplicity, it is the best way to turn off the nervous response that is innate to our bodies when we sense danger or a threat to our survival (in this case, a gymnastics meet is our threat).
When a gymnast gets nervous, her sympathetic nervous system, the involuntary system responsible for quickly responding to dangerous or stressful situations, responds by causing different systems in her body to channel blood to her muscles.
Her heart rate increases to speed up blood flow, her breath quickens to get more oxygen to her brain, and a quick release of hormones causes her to have a rapid burst of energy.
These are all things necessary for her to fight or flee in a dangerous situation as our ancestors had to do when a wild animal threatened their survival.
In our modern day world, however, your gymnast most likely won't encounter mountain lions as a threat. But any situation that feels stressful or outside her control can trigger this same response.
Before and during a gymnastics meet, your gymnast's palms might get sweaty, her stomach might do butterflies, and her breath can start to get shallow and/or labored.
This physical response, if she doesn't understand it, can then lead her to panic and go down the spiraling path of negative thoughts such as 'I can't do this' and 'I'm not good enough.'
Proper breathing can neutralize the body's physiological response to stress because it teaches your gymnast's brain that there is no real emergency.
This in turn helps her mindset switch from a negative one based in fear to a more positive one of empowerment.
What Is Proper Breathing To Calm Nerves in Gymnastics?
By proper breathing we are referring to deep belly breathing.
Belly breathing refers to breaths that go down into your gymnast's belly and fill the lower lobes of her lungs deep down into the sides of her rib cage.
Her chest does not rise and fall during these breaths.
She should breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth.
Doing this type of breathing starts to turn off the sympathetic nervous system and signal the parasympathetic nervous system (its counterpart that calms the body down) to slow her heart rate and breathing.
Her systems start to return to their normal state which helps her realize that there is no real threat in that competition situation.
How A Glitter Bottle Can Help You Understand This Concept and Calm Your Nerves in Gymnastics
In order to facilitate deep breathing before and during meets we think it's a great idea to use a glitter jar/bottle to help.
A glitter bottle is a bottle filled with water to the top and a few spoon fulls of glitter.
The cap is glued on or closed tightly so no water will leak out. You can watch my video above as I explain what the glitter jar signifies and how this relates to deep breathing for calming nerves.
And you can watch the video below to see what a glitter jar looks like. Does it feel calming to you?
The goal to calming nerves is for your gymnast to understand that nerves in gymnastics are not a bad thing.
Nerves can actually improve her competitive performance by giving her the edge she needs to perform with more energy and power.
But these beneficial effects are only felt if she can recognize when her nerves start to creep in and learn how to tame them to her benefit.
This starts with deep breathing and turning off the sympathetic fight or flight response so that she can tap into that positive energy and follow it with powerful thoughts.
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