With important Sectional and State competitions just around the corner, gymnasts usually start to feel more pressure while they compete, and more pressure leads to more nervousness. As a young club gymnast myself, I often struggled with my nerves, particularly on beam, and it was something that I didn't quite learn to handle until my junior year in college. In this post are a few tips and tricks to combating nerves that I've procured over the years.
1. Positive Thinking
This is something I constantly emphasize when coaching. Negative thoughts of fear and failure are universal in gymnastics, but if a gymnast learns to change her entire way of thinking, she will see a difference in her gymnastics. Turn the "I can't" in to "I CAN" and the "I won't" into "I WILL."
2. Goal Setting
Goal setting is, in my opinion, imperative to the success of a gymnast. Before a meet or before you start a week of practice, make a list of goals you want to accomplish and pay attention to the way it's worded. Instead of writing "Don't fall off beam", write "Stick my beam routine"; instead of writing, "Don't bend my legs on my vault," write "Keep my legs straight on my vault." Set goals for your performance, not your score. A score is not something the gymnast can control, but her performance is. Setting goals not only focuses the mind of a gymnast, but it also gives the gymnast a sense of confidence and control.
It might sound silly, but controlling your breathing can relieve stress and help calm nerves. I've used a technique called "square breathing" whenever I felt anxious or nervous before competing.
Step 1: breathe in and count to 4 slowly
Step 2: hold that breath and count to 4 slowly
Step 3: exhale and count to 4 slowly
Step 4: hold again for a slow count of 4 before inhaling again.
Repeat this a few times and it will slow down your heart rate, focus your mind, and help calm you down.
I am a HUGE fan of visualizing and it has been proven to work in gymnastics. If you visualize your routines before you go to bed on the night before a meet, and just before you compete them, it can be beneficial to the performance. By "visualizing" I mean close your eyes and envision yourself doing the routine absolutely perfectly.
5. Don't sweat the small stuff
Not everything is going to be perfect. Everyone has bad meets. Everyone has that level that seems to be tougher to get through than the rest. Don't let a bad performance on one event affect the rest of the meet and don't let a bad meet affect the way you see yourself and your gymnastics. Even the best gymnasts in the world have bad days! It might feel like the end of the world sometimes, but I assure you, life and gymnastics does go on!
"You can't be afraid of what happens next. You just have to go for it, and that's what counts. There's a saying: if you fall off the horse, you have to get back right back on again. I think that's important for girls to learn. Not just for gymnastics, but for life. There's always going to be someone or something that's going to get you down, but you've got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and adapt."
- World and Olympic medalist, Alicia Sacramone
Peace, love, and gymnastics,
Spectrum Gymnastics Academy
26 Buttrick Rd
About the Author
Coach Sarah is a former Rhode Island College gymnast, NCGA National qualifier, All-American, current gymnastics coach and judge, and contributor for the gymnastics news source, The Gymternet. Find out what's going on at Spectrum and learn more about the incredible sport of gymnastics!