Confidence is by far a trait that all gymnasts should strive for. Confidence can help gymnasts score better, feel better, and enjoy themselves more in gymnastics than gymnasts with little or no confidence. In the past we’ve talked about things to do to improve your confidence before your meet to get you prepared to have a great meet. But what about ways to improve your confidence during your meet, since that’s when having confidence is vital to keeping up a positive attitude and seeing success? It’s one thing to go into a meet feeling good about your abilities, but it’s a much harder task to keep that confidence level up when something happens during your meet that is either negative or unexpected. Your confidence can quickly plummet as circumstances and events unfold that switch your focus to something unwanted.
So what can you do to remain positive and have more confidence during your meet?
In the following article we give you different strategies you can try to help you keep your confidence level up during your routines.
We also teach you how to connect words to skills you do in your routine to help you stay focused and confident. We made a worksheet to help you do this.
But first, here are a few general tips for how to be more confident when you first arrive at your meet:
- Ignore your competitors. It’s easy to look around during your meet and see gymnasts who look like they’re good. We all know who they are. They’re the gymnasts who come into the meet with the best competition leotards and impeccably smoothed back hair and matching warmups with crystals all over them. They all do the same warmup and they look really prepared. In fact, they look fierce and it might even scare you a bit. And the truth is, they just might be really good. But it’s also important to remember that their ability might not be related to how good they look. Comparing yourself to the other gymnasts around you when you get to your meet is only going to cause you to doubt your ability. And that leads to a dip in your confidence. So put your blinders on when you arrive at your meet and focus on you and you only. Try not to let your gaze be distracted by your surroundings.
- Connect your warmup to your mindset work. Most coaches put their gymnasts through the same warmup routine every meet, so chances are you’re already familiar with your meet warmup. This is great but we want you to take it one step farther. In addition to your physical warmup, you should be connecting a mental warmup to your actions. So, for example, as you do kicks across the floor during your warmup, you should have something specific that you say to yourself during those kicks. It could be something like “chin up, tummy in, point your toes.” Or it might be something like a mantra such as “I can do this” with each kick. Ahead of time, practice your warmup at home and connect verbal phrases to each pass. When you get to your meet, your focus is on saying those phrases in your head as you go through each pass of your warmup. This will give you something to focus on as well as instill confident phrases in your mind which will put you in a much better place to begin your meet.
- Take deep breaths. This is one of the things that gymnasts forget to utilize during meets, yet is SO important. Remember in our mental blocks article how we discussed the fight-or-flight response that kicks in whenever your body senses danger? Well if you forget to take deep breaths during your meet, your fight-or-flight response can go into effect and make you feel extremely nervous. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can actually calm down your fight or flight response which can help your nerves become less overwhelming. When you calm down your nerves, you calm down your body which can lead to a better warmup. Your muscles will also feel looser and you’ll feel less stressed which will lead to higher confidence.
- Make sure you stay hydrated and fuel your body with the right foods. The easiest way to slide into a negative feeling place is when your blood sugar is low and/or you’re dehydrated. It’s important that you eat a good meal before your meet and that you eat snacks to keep your blood sugar level up throughout your meet. Drink lots of plain water to stay hydrated. Even a small level of dehydration can cause your muscles to fatigue faster and feel weaker. When your blood sugar level is low it’s easy for your confidence to drop as you become grumpy or feel low energy. So make sure you’re staying hydrated while eating nutritious foods that help to maintain your sugar level.
- Pick one goal for your meet and focus on that. You might go into your meet feeling like you need to hit a few different goals. Maybe you decided you want to stick all your landings and smile throughout your routines and score your best. However, instead of coming up with a few goals, decide ahead of time which of these goals is most important to you and focus on that one goal exclusively. This way your mind is clear on what you’re working towards and you can remind yourself of this one goal as you move from event to event. This will also help your mind stay focused as it starts to stray throughout your meet. Keeping your eye on your goal will help you feel more confident as you achieve this goal during your meet.
What about during your routines? How do you increase your confidence throughout your routines after your meet has started? Here are 7 tips to help you:
- Give yourself 30 seconds to be angry about your mistakes and then forget about them. During your meet you might make mistakes. These are part of the process of becoming a better gymnast but sometimes mistakes can make you feel angry or frustrated. That’s a natural response and it’s ok to feel this way. But it’s not ok if you let this feeling dictate how the rest of your meet goes. Instead, give yourself 30 seconds to feel all of your feelings about your mistake without trying to stop them. Then after 30 seconds is up, tell yourself you’re done thinking about your mistakes. If you feel you need to think about your mistakes again, wait until your meet is over. This will prevent you from dwelling on the mistake and lowering your confidence. You can easily get sidelined by a negative thought and it can cause your entire meet to be “off.”
- Take it one event at a time. Don’t get too ahead of yourself. It’s common to get nervous at a meet and for your mind to race with all the things that could go wrong or that you’re worried about. This will decrease your confidence. One way to stop this is to remind yourself that it’s one event at a time and that you are going to focus on the event that you’re on and only that event. When you’re on bars, make sure your only focus is bars. Don’t start getting nervous about the beam routine that you have to compete next. Don’t worry about your floor routine and that tumbling pass that you’re scared of until you get to floor. This mindset shift takes practice and you might need a cue to help you. You can say “one event at a time” to yourself if you find your mind wandering or you can come up with your phrase that prompts you to focus.
- Once you salute, you are in control of whatever happens after that. This is something that Simone Biles talks about in her course. After saluting the judges at the beginning of her routine, she quickly reminds herself that no matter what happens after that, it is all up to her. She controls her focus, her attitude, how much effort she puts forth, and how hard she pushes in her routines. If she falls, that’s also on her but more importantly, it’s how she recovers after that fall that is under her control. So it’s a good idea for you to adopt the same idea when you compete. Feeling in control is a great way to boost your confidence.
- Talk yourself through your routines. Like we suggested during your warmup, it’s important to connect your physical action to your mental action. During your routines, you should have different phrases you say to yourself as you go through each element. On bars you might tell yourself things like “straight arms,” “body tight,” or “almost there, stay strong.” These are positive affirmations that can help your body flow better and feel more confident. These affirmations should be used in practice throughout your season so that when you compete these words feel natural to you.
- Force yourself to smile during your routines. This is also something that Simone Biles suggests in her course. She said that her coach used to make her do her routines in practice over and over until she could do the entire routine with a smile on her face. While it might seem like a simple act, a smile can actually change the way you feel about yourself and increase your confidence during your routine. So even if it feels forced at first, still practice keeping a smile on your face throughout your routines. It doesn’t have to be a grin from ear-to-ear but it should be enough of a smile that you feel different. The goods news is that adding in a smile can actually help to improve your artistry score as well since judges like to see your character shining through on your routines.
- Fix your posture. One of the simplest things you can do during your meet to increase your confidence is fix your posture. This means that instead of slumping your shoulders over, you roll your shoulders back and down. It means you life up your chin and stick your chest out slightly (with your belly pulled in). It means you put your body in a position of power. Try it for yourself now and you’ll see how much confident you feel. During your meet, if you feel less than confident or extremely nervous, try fixing your posture. This is also something great to do before you salute the judges.
- If you fall, come up with a plan that will help you stay focused. Falling is something that might happen at a meet and when it does your confidence can plummet. Of course we’d like to believe that we’ll have a great meet and that everything will go as planned but that’s not always the case. To be proactive, it’s important to come up with a plan for what to do in case things don’t go the way we want them to. Think about a time when you fell in the past and how you responded. Were your mental and physical actions helpful or hurtful to the rest of your performance? Think about what you could have done differently that would have made it a more positive outcome. You might decide that you take 10 seconds to breath, say something to motivate you like “I won’t let the judges take any more deductions from me,” and then fix your posture before continuing on with your routine. Most often gymnasts rush back onto the equipment after falling without giving themselves a chance to regroup. So come up with a predetermined plan for what to do that can help you deal with the unexpected.
Confidence is such an important trait for gymnasts but it’s one that takes practice and time. Each of these tips can help you gain more confidence before and during your meet. Remember that when you get to your meet you should ignore your competitors, focus on your mental work during your warmup, take deep breaths to calm down your nerves and help your body move better, eat the right foods and stay hydrated, and pick one goal ahead of time for your meet and stay focused on that goal throughout your meet. During your routines, to feel more confident you should let yourself focus on your mistakes for no more than 30 seconds and then move on, take it one event at a time, remember that you’re in control after you salute the judges, talk yourself through your routines, force yourself to smile during your routines, fix your posture before you do your routines, and come up with a plan for what to do if you fall.