Gymnastics Psychology Tips: How to Stay Relaxed as a Gymnast When the Pressure is On
Do you crumble in big competitions?
If you watch Gymnastics at the Olympics you’ll likely hear gymnasts talk a lot about dealing with pressure, having confidence and belief in themselves, focusing on the right things and so on….
When competing as a gymnast you’ll likely find competitions are at different levels; club, county, regional, national and international. When we think of the Olympics, it’s the holy grail for most gymnasts and athletes. They train for many years to compete for their country as well as for personal pride. Only the real mentally tough competitors are the one’s that go on to thrive in such as environment. There’s no doubt the Olympics can trigger a huge amount of pressure for many gymnasts.
Do you find competing in bigger competition equals more pressure for you?
Why is that? Well it is usually because you are guilty of placing yourself under too much pressure. You judge the level of competition and place strict demands and expectations on yourself. You go into what I can “judgement mode” often comparing yourself against other competitors. You may even tell yourself you are here to win and/or that you are not allowed to make any mistakes.
Expectations create a lot of pressure
When you are competing in big competitions or at the Olympics, these types of expectations are not irrational. After all, if you’re competitive this is why you have put hours and hours of training in. You want to win. However, it is how you FOCUS that is key. Focusing on your expectations is a sure way to under-perform. There is a likelihood that you will feel the need to perform perfectly. This is where the problems can begin…
You hear many athletes say their greatest performances are when they perform free of expectation. How do you do that? Letting go of expectations is much easier said than done. Your expectations are shaped over years and years of experiences and often from conversations with other people (coaches, parents, friends and family, rivals). It’s a tricky one to eliminate them completely however being aware of your expectations that you place on yourself and others is key.
How can I check my expectations? Here is a starting point – look to complete the following 5 statements and fill in the gaps:
- In my next competition I expect to …………….
- In the next big competition ……………… (Eg, The Olympics) I expect to ………….
- When I perform I expect my parents to ……………
- In training I expect my coach to ………………
- On the bars I expect ……….
Now check these expectations, perhaps show them to a coach, parent or friend. Do you find that these expectations increase pressure on yourself? Why is that?
Strict expectations are where many gymnasts go wrong and they ramp up pressure on yourself. Gymnasts who go into competitions feeling added pressure should check to see if they answer any of the statements above with result based or outcome-based responses.
If that’s the case this is likely to be one of the big reasons why you feel added pressure.
Now that you’re aware of this I’d recommend that you direct your focus to the present moment. But how I hear you say!
If I were supporting you we’d be having helpful conversations, so that you go on to replace your expectations with mini-goals. For example, let’s say in answer to statement 2, you said “In the next big competition, the Olympics, I expect to finish on the podium.”
We’d then discuss what success would look like. Where you may say: “On the beam I’ll be graceful and elegant. I’d show my strength and power on the floor. I’d support and encourage my team-mates. I’d never give up and show my competitiveness to the last moment regardless of how well I am doing.”
We’d then have some choices to make. We’d have options to set mini-goals for different apparatus or for the competition as a whole. For example.
On the beam I’ll be graceful and elegant
Rate myself out of 10 for how graceful and elegant I am every time I perform on the beam
I’d show my strength and power on the floor.
Rate myself out of 10 for my strength and power on the floor.
I’d support and encourage my team-mates.
Rate myself out of 10 for how supportive and encouraging of my team-mates I was for the competition.
I’d never give up and show my competitiveness to the last moment regardless of how well I am doing.”
Rate myself out of 10 for the whole competition, on how I demonstrated how competitive and determined I was.
I’d hope that you agree, these mini-goals will likely feel much lighter than the “I must finish on the podium” expectation. They should help you focus on smaller cues, ingredients which are likely to make up a great performance.
Feel free to continue to focus on the outcome, or results of the competition if you want to continue performing anxiously or hesitantly. Though this approach is much better and can help hugely.
Many gymnasts experience pre-competition butterflies sometimes this comes out in outbursts with parents, tears, many toilet stops or sickness. Sleeping the evening before a competition can prove difficult, managing a rapid heart-rate, heavy breathing, sweaty palms are also problematic. As a result, it can be very distressing for everyone involved and mean that a lot of the time that you put into training can be wasted. It often can stop gymnasts performing in competitions too, some sadly then move away from the sport.
However, it doesn’t have to that way if you take some time to:
- Dig deep into what you expect from yourself and others.
- Set mini-goals that free you up.
- Focus on what you can control.
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Online Sports Psychologist who supports Gymnasts around the world from Colorado to Cornwall, Dublin to Dubai, Abu Dhabi to Adelaide, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.
Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence, Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast and Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub. With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to achieve their goals, faster.
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