Six Amazing Tips to Prepare Mentally for Big Competitions

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Welcome to our 3rd installment of Preparing for Big Meets. We have an amazing guest post today from Linda Goos. Linda is a Sport Performance Consultant and former collegiate gymnast and coach.  She has been working with athletes over the past 20 years since receiving her Masters of Science from the University of Utah in Exercise & Sport Science. She i she founder of Peak Performance Athlete and you can email her at  linda@peakperformanceathlete.com if you have any questions about this post.

I’ve shared this with some of our coaches and the’ve already put this into practice, so don’t delay, get started today! This is pure meet gold! Thanks Linda for your great post.

Six Amazing Tips to Prepare Mentally for Big Competitions

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Mental preparation for competition, similar to your physical and nutritional preparation has little to do with what you do the night before the big event.  So, if you are hoping to get the CliffsNotes version like cramming for that big exam, try again.  Successful athletes know the importance of a mental training plan and have been incorporating this into their overall training for months if not years, in order to maximize their competition potential.   I would guess some of you are already focusing on mental training while others may need to begin incorporating these key activities.  To get you on the road to success, I have outlined six key ways you can prepare yourself mentally for competition day.

1.       Revisit your long-term and annual goals: I recommend revisiting these goals frequently throughout the year to ensure you are still aiming at the target and also gaining confidence from your accomplishments.  2-3 weeks prior to your competition, spend some time reviewing your goal plan.  How does the upcoming competition bring you closer to your long term goal?  Perhaps this is your last opportunity to qualify for state or you have plans to add a new skill or new choreography.  Whatever the milestone or importance of the meet, the achievement goal should be very clear.

2.       Set meet specific goals: once you revisit your long term and short-term goals, I recommend setting meet specific goals and workout goals.  Let’s imagine your long term goal is to qualify for Regionals and place in the top 10.  And, your short term-goal (this meet) is reducing deductions by .3 -.5 per event.  The next two weeks of practice should be focused on refining the elements which are leading to the deductions.  Set specific daily goals so you can measure your progress at the end of each workout.  This accomplishes several things.  1) Higher likelihood of achieving your goal by laser focusing on the improvement area 2) Creates confidence and a feeling of preparedness as you head into the meet 3) Reduces stress by focusing on the process and not the outcome, over which you have no control.

3.       Focus on perfect practice: Vince Lombardi said it best with his famous quote. “Practice does not make perfect.  Only perfect practice makes perfect”.  Of the many mental skills that I incorporated into my daily routine as an athlete, this is one that I believe produced the most profound results.  While repetition is important during the learning phases of any sport, if you are well into your season, doing hundreds of skills or routines and not doing them with 100% perfection, you are likely doing more harm than good.  Focus on a reduction in numbers and a heightened focus on the execution while simulating the competitive environment.

4.       Know your competitive routine:  a competitive routine is a consistent, repeatable and successful routine which brings familiarity and confidence to the competitive setting.  This includes arrival at the competition venue, stretching activities, warm-up, one-touch and competition rituals and activities.  As an example, your competitive routine may be as follows.  On arrival at the venue, you observe each apparatus to orient yourself and understand the warm-up rotation and timing.  You then spend 5 minutes visualizing your routines on each event within the competitive setting.  Now, you join the team for your daily stretching routine –perhaps there is a leader assigned to each meet to keep the team together.  You also add in other stretching exercises that are specific to your needs and prepares you for your first warm-up event. Your first timed warm-up event is beam.  Your warm-up plan is 2 of each major skill, including mount and dismount and 1 full routine.  You then proceed through a similar structured warm-up on the other events.  Once competition begins, you set motion to your competition routine which is also choreographed with pre-set and consistent skills which you perform prior to each event and across every competition. The key to any repetitive routine is consistency and keeping it simple.  Find what works and stick with it!  This consistency and familiarity will breed confidence and build comfort into an otherwise unfamiliar and stressful setting.

5.       Leverage visualization, rehearsal and simulation: what better way to prepare for competition than visualizing yourself in the competitive setting, rehearsing the competition in your mind’s eye and simulating the pressure of competition.  Here are some tips to preparing yourself for your next meet.  1) Spend 5 minutes before each practice event visualizing perfection in your skills and routines.  2) Spend 15 -20 minutes each night visualizing those same routines in competition.  If you are familiar with the competition arena, visualize competing in that space, taking in all the sights, sounds, feeling and smell that you can.  Feel the pressure of the competition and the confidence in your preparation. 3) Rehearse through visualization, your entire competitive routine, reconstructing the meet from beginning to end in your mind. 4) Incorporate simulation into your practice to recreate the competitive environment.  This is one that requires some creativity but to give you an example, in college our head coach would stop the entire practice in the gym and turn everyone’s attention to the beam at an unannounced time.  He would then declare the beam line-up and ask each gymnast to perform her routine while the rest of the gym watched on.  To add to the distraction, he would turn up the volume on the radio and pace back and forth at the end of the balance beam in an attempt to test our conviction. Now it is your turn. How can you create your own pressure in a non-pressure environment?

6.       Create a positive mental outlook: Of all the steps listed in this article, this is probably going to be the most challenging. The #1 reason most athletes do not perform well during competition has very little to do with their physical preparation or even their nutrition.  The critical ingredient is our mental outlook.  The first step is creating awareness around your internal self-talk.  Often times the negative thoughts begin days prior to competition and heighten as we get closer to the big day.  Make a practice out of recognizing when these thoughts begin to creep in.  Once you have awareness around these thoughts, you can make a choice and take action.  Each individual is slightly different and may find different ways to turn the negative thoughts into positive.  Some suggestions I recommend include: watching videos of successful past competitions, focus in on your daily goals and recognizing the progress and your preparedness and remain focused on the execution and not the outcome.  While you do not have control over your score or placement at the meet, you do have control over how you execute your skills.  Skills by skill, your desired outcome will follow.

With your season in high swing, there is no time like the present to start creating a mental training plan to ensure you are prepared for the moment when your mental strength matters most; competition.

Linda Goos is a Sport Performance Consultant and former collegiate gymnast and coach.  She has been working with athletes over the past 20 years since receiving her Masters of Science from the University of Utah in Exercise & Sport Science.  To learn more about incorporating this training into your gym or to learn more about Peak Performance programs , please visit peakperformanceathlete.com or email Linda at linda@peakperformanceathlete.com..

Dr. Joshua Eldridge

About Dr. Joshua Eldridge

Dr. Joshua Eldridge has specialized in protecting gymnasts from injury. He is the inventor of The X Brace, and has developed a treatment protocol for Sever's disease and heel pain that has helped thousands of gymnasts throughout the world. Dr. Eldridge brings practical, easy injury care and prevention that can be done at home.