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Gymnastic Mental Skills

Are you getting a big enough edge over your competitors with your mental strength? Do you want to learn techniques you can use to get an advantage? Read below.

This post will tell you the key mental skills you need to be a successful gymnast plus provides you with the best techniques that top athletes use to become mentally tough.

You need mental skills to be successful, to be mentally tough and perform like you do in training. To perform at your potential whatever level you are, you need a strong mind.

All the top gymnasts have certain mental skills in common. What are they?

1. Managing Perfectionism: Gymnastics is a sport all about pursuing perfection. As a gymnast you should not focus on this when performing, let the judges decide the score. Your job is to perform each skill and each routine the best you can. To do this you need to focus on how to perform well and ignore unrealistic expectations. You can then achieve excellence and peak performance. Perfectionism hurts performance as you may overthink skills causing mistakes, get frustrated easier when you don’t meet your expectations or you may hold back as you feel it is never going to be good enough.

2. Bouncing Back Quickly from Mistakes: You do not have long to get back on the apparatus or get up off the floor once you have made a mistake. You need to be able to bounce back within seconds to avoid further mistakes and deductions. You need to avoid being self-critical and control your emotions so you can think clearly. You will then make less mental mistakes and receive higher scores. Gymnasts often make more mistakes when they are still thinking about a past mistake and they can’t focus on the next skill.

3. Dealing with Fear and Mental Blocks: This is very common in gymnastics; I have dealt with this as a gymnast, coach and now as a mental coach. As a gymnast you are asked to do skills most people can’t do and that can be dangerous. In order to make progress in the sport you need to overcome the fear and focus on learning and performing the skills well.

Sometimes you can develop mental blocks for skills you have done for years such as a back handspring. You need to be able to beat this fear and be very determined to regain your previous skills. This also involves managing your emotions and avoiding injuries from balking. You can’t let it affect your training for too long. If you can do this you will keep improving, moving up the levels and developing more competitive routines. If you can’t beat the fear this can often lead to gymnasts quitting the sport due to losing skills, not improving and it not being fun anymore.

4. Performing Under Pressure: As an individual sport it is all up to you to get a good score either for yourself or for your team. You need to stay composed and calm in order to focus on your skills. If you can’t do this what often happens is more nerves, tension and multiple mistakes. You may hold back (having worse form or missing connections) and are not able to perform like you know you can in training. If you can embrace the pressure you will perform your best at the most important times and have fun!

5. Confidence: You need belief that you can perform your best routines in any situation. You need to trust in your skills and repetitions and not worry about what others think. If you are confident you will be able to perform your routines with good form, you will bounce back quickly from mistakes and you can be aggressive when needed.

Imagine being able to perform a powerful vault and sticking the landing, a bar routine with sky-high releases, a beam routine with no hesitation on difficult skills and competing on floor where you have everyone’s attention because of your dance and powerful tumbles. If you don’t have confidence the opposite of this happens. Your form is worse, you hold back, you have more falls and lower scores. You don’t compete like you do in training and you can’t add new skills to your routines.

6. Focusing on the process and not the score or the judges: It is easy to get distracted by the score or worry about what they judges think of your routine. This can hurt your performance as you have lost focus on what you need to do. You need to be able to stay focused on key corrections and what helps you perform well. This is the optimum focus for you to compete your best; you will have better form and can make corrections to even the smallest details.

Focusing on the score means you are focused on things out of your control. You will become more frustrated after mistakes; you won’t be able to focus on making corrections, connections or improving your form. You need all of your attention focused on you in order to perform well.

7. Mental Preparation: During gymnastics competitions you have to deal with long periods of time in between routines. You may have to wait for a score from a previous gymnast before you can go, you may be first up in a rotation and then last up in the next or, you may have a bye and have to sit out a whole rotation. This means you need to be able to stay mentally prepared and get in the zone quickly as needed. This may be unpredictable so you need to be very good at managing your energy and focus. When you are in the zone you will perform like you do in training and be more consistent. You have between a few seconds to 90 seconds to show your skills so it is important to be ready from the start. If you are not in your winning mindset you will not reach peak performance or be able to show your potential.

7 Key Techniques You Should Be Using:

1. Routines: These are used to get in the zone and achieve a winning mindset. They include key mental strategies that work very quickly. The most important routines for gymnasts to have are:
Refocusing routines for use after a mistake
Preparation routines to be used before each apparatus
Pre-Competition routines to be used during the warm-up

2. Cue Words: These are short phrases that are very effective at keeping you focused and performing at your best. They are used to focus your mind on specific skills or technique, improving your mood or refocusing quickly when distracted. Gymnasts should develop these for each apparatus or routine.

3. Relaxation/Energization: These are techniques to calm down or increase energy as needed. You can control your physical and mental energy. They are quick and effective. They include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, psych-up breathing and music.

4. Visualization: This is a powerful technique for gymnasts. Gymnasts should use all 5 of their senses and develop personalized scripts. Three main uses are:

To rehearse important parts of a routine
To increase confidence
To mentally and physically prepare in-between rotations

5. Emotional Game Plans: A complete plan of techniques to control thoughts, body reactions and behaviors. The purpose is to release emotions effectively and use them to help your performance. They can be developed for any emotion including nerves, frustration, sadness or fear.

6. Thought Control: It is important to have self-awareness of your thoughts and how they affect your performance. Once you identify negative thoughts you need to use techniques to stop, control or change these thoughts. You need to use positive or helpful thoughts to get into a winning mindset.

7. Process Goals: For each competition you should set at least one goal for each routine and review them once you finish. This keeps you focused on the process and not the score. It also makes sure you are continuously improving. Goals should always be SMART and focus on areas such as technique, strategy or mindset.

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