Develop a Meet-Ready Mindset

Your athlete spends many hours a week training in the gym, pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into the sport they love. Maybe they’re the kind of kid who always hits routines in practice. They work hard, take corrections, and put in their best effort day after day in the gym. Then meet day rolls around and all of their training, all of that preparation, suddenly collides with nerves. They go into competition feeling tense, terrified of failing—afraid that they will disappoint themselves, their parents, and their coaches. As a parent, it can be hard to understand how your gymnast can perform amazing skills at practice that most people couldn’t dream of doing, but struggle with the fear of failing in competition. But, like any other skill, mental toughness can be learned, practiced, and strengthened. With the right tools your child can learn to tame his or her fears and compete with confidence.

Drop The Expectation For Perfection

Help your child recognize that each competition is not a final exam, it’s just a place to demonstrate where their skills are right now. Of course, your gymnast wants to do well in competition, but doing well may mean something different with each meet. Take the focus off of scores and placements and instead help them to focus on making small improvements—straight arms in her kip or pointed toes during his pommel horse routine.

“I tell parents and gymnasts that competition is an opportunity to show where you are today. Then you get feedback on where you are, and you go from there. We move on from that place taking the information we’ve gotten and moving forward in the season,” says Stacey Goodrich, Mental Strength Coach and owner of So Connected Mental Strength Training.

Help Them Find Their Own Strategy

Visualizing routines before a competition is a strategy many coaches recommend, and it works very well for some gymnasts. However, not all kids are visual learners. Some are auditory and do best saying or thinking certain key words during their routines, some kids are kinetic and do well if they image feeling their way through the routine, while some need to think their way through their routine. Sometimes their strategy may change from one event to the next—a visual strategy may work for beam, while a kinetic strategy works better for bars. The key is figuring out what works ahead of time and practicing that strategy while preparing for competition.

Give Your Mind A Job To Do

Is your gymnast focused on what his or her coach will think of her performance? Afraid you will be disappointed if they don’t hit a certain score? If so, these thoughts are controlling their minds as they compete.

“Gymnasts’ bodies know what to do, but if you don’t give your mind a job to do it will give itself a job,” says Goodrich.

Unfortunately, that job may be obsessing over everything that could go wrong.

“Whatever their expectation is becomes the thing that is controlling them,” says Goodrich. “The symptom may be the fear of not being perfect, and the result is a disconnect between their mind and body.”

Instead of allowing themselves to be paralyzed by thoughts of failing, focus on using the strategies that they have determined work best for them—visualizing, thinking, feeling, or talking their way through their routines.

Set A Plan For After The Competition

Goodrich recommends gymnasts have something to look forward to after the meet, whether it’s getting ice cream, going shopping, watching a movie, or enjoying time with friends. Giving your athlete something to look forward to after the meet can help take some of the pressure off and remind them that they are more than just a gymnast.

“Gymnasts sometimes see competition as all or nothing. Having something to look forward to after the meet reminds them that life goes on after this,” Goodrich says.

Focus On One Thing At A Time

Sometimes just walking into the meet can feel overwhelming to your gymnast. They have been practicing for months but once the competition arrives and they see the other teams, the judges, and the equipment it can trigger major nerves for some gymnasts. To counteract the nerves, remind your child to focus on one thing at a time. There’s no need to worry about beam while you are starting off on bars. Take each event as it comes and focus on each skill in the routine. Once that skill is completed, they can focus on moving to the next skill.

Move On From Mistakes

Your gymnast started off on beam and had a fall right away, or his high bar routine scored much lower than he expected. Bummer. It happens to every competitor, but once it’s over it’s over. Remind your gymnast to leave whatever disappointment they may feel behind on that last event. Each event offers a fresh opportunity to demonstrate their skills, and at a competition there is no benefit in dwelling on past mistakes.

Don’t Be Afraid To Seek Help

Gymnastics is a tough sport and as parents we don’t always know exactly what to say to our kids to help them through their fears. A quick web search will turn up plenty of books, videos, and podcasts that may help your gymnast develop the tools that work best for them. Some gymnasts find they do best with one-on-one sports psychology coaching sessions to help them identify the best strategies to stay mentally strong both at meets and while managing fears around learning new skills. A sports psychologist may be able to recognize thinking patterns that have been holding your gymnast back and offer solutions tailored to your child’s needs.

With each meet and each new level of competition your gymnast will continue to find themselves challenged by the sport, but with the right mental mindset they can learn to leave their fears behind, walk into meets with confidence, and most importantly, enjoy competing in the sport they love.

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What's your favorite tip from the article?​

What other methods do you or your athlete use?​

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What really helped me to get in a competition mindset when I was competing was to have a meet day routine.
I always packed my bag the day before and laid my clothes and everything I would need out. This helped me not to worry about those things and to know that I had everything I needed.
On meet day I tried to minimize stress. Waking up early, taking my time to eat and do my hair. Always having plenty of extra time so I didn’t get stressed.
I learned that if I was stressed before the meet, I would be even more stressed during the meet.

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What's your favorite tip from the article?​

What other methods do you or your athlete use?​

Great article! Love the tips suggested here. We have changed what we listen to on the way to a meet. I used to think that fast-paced motivational songs were the way to go. Hype music so-to-speak. He was all over the place in warmups. Anxiety through the roof. Couldn’t stay on a mushroom to save his life.

We are now listening to classical music in the way and what a game changer. His mind is relaxed and he is focused. The stretch/warm-up gets his body ready. The music steadies his mind. He’s a totally different gymnast out there.

Reply 7 Likes

This one is just awesome...

SET A PLAN FOR AFTER THE COMPETITION

If we could find a way to go out to eat as a team after every competition it would be great. This is just getting harder and harder to do though... so I think it's really important to do things just like the article says.

We have many times done the frozen yogurt thing... or find a very special and fun restaurant (like a slice of pizza at a go-cart track).

One other thing about this... something that I have witnessed time and time again as a coach... it should not be determined by the results...

"If you don't fall off beam... then we'll get frozen yogurt"... no... no... no. The plan that is set for after happens no matter what... that is the key.

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I’m fortunate to have a DD that doesn’t get too nervous before meets. She usually sets one non score goal for each apparatus, like getting leaps to 180, and we keep it very relaxed. My advice to her before she heads out on the floor is “have fun, and it’s just gymnastics.” I always try to remind her that gymnastics is what she does, not who she is, and that we are proud of how hard she works regardless of placements and scores. After the meet, it’s a tradition that she gets to pick where we go to eat.

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We always stopped at DQ on the drive back from the meet which was usually about 1.5 - 2 hours away. We started this tradition after her first meet and we have kept it going for the last 8 years. We still do that no matter what and she is a senior in High School! Some traditions are worth keeping.

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This article is so awesome I'm actually using it with my high level athletes. Make sure you have read this if you have not... and please share it with all of your friends on Facebook!

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"competition is an opportunity to show where you are today. Then you get feedback on where you are, and you go from there."

Love this!

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Everyone… please do leave comments here about the article. We want to hear your thoughts!

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My favorite tip is "give your mind a job." Visualization is SO powerful. In between warming up and competing, especially beam, we always take a moment and visualize our routines with our keywords instead of sitting there and coming up with the what-ifs. My coach also helped us create keywords for each tumbling pass so we have something to focus on mentally, while our bodies take over.

But honestly, as you move through the levels, competition has just become less and less of a big deal as you find what works for you. And as it becomes less of a big deal, mistakes become less of a confidence wrecker. I can now say if I start on beam and fall multiple times, I will shrug (dance?!) it off at the meet and perform my best after. Then on the car ride home I'll be ticked, but that is besides the point haha. I have just mentally come to a point where you can't break my chill positive mindset, because its supposed to be FUN. I have had my fair share of meets where I've stressed myself sick and I just wanted it to be OVER, which is not how it should be. When your wound that tight mistakes are even more bound to happen.

Plus, nothing like floor to dance off your disappointment, or tumble away your internal anger at yourself.

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I’ve been told many times that my daughter’s main issue is lack of mental strength. It definitely gets in the way of not only meet performance, but also her mastery of new skills.
How do you find a mental coach?

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How do you find a mental coach?

Doc Ali is well known in the gymnastics world...

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Visualization. All the time. It is so much more helpful that it is cracked up to be.

But at the end of the day, unless you are hitting 100/100 routines at practice, you will have bad meets.

It helps to be competing skills you feel safe doing, not something you put on the high beam last week. Though speaking as a tooootal hypocrite who would rather do something 'up to level' and fall off than do something way too easy and get a 9.5.

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What a great article, and the tips in the comments are so helpful. My main focus on meet days are to keep the morning stress free and to remind her how far she has come this season to help her focus on her own routines and improvements.

DD does have some “phenoms” on her team who place 1st AA frequently, and she was devastated the first two meets when she scored much lower than her friends did. Bringing the focus back to her improvements and her goals (pointing toes, higher leaps, more attitude on floor) has changed the way she approaches the meets for the better, and the confidence she is building shines more and more with each competition. It has been beautiful to watch as a parent.

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Perfect 10: College Gymnastics