Competition season is an important time for many gymnasts and can be filled with both excitement and anxiety. While these emotions are natural for the most part, they can lead to poor performance if not harnessed correctly. One of the best tools a gymnast can utilize before every meet to combat unchecked emotions and to show up fully prepared, both physically and mentally, is a pre-meet routine.
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What is a pre-meet routine?
A pre-meet routine is a series of things that a gymnast does before her meet to get herself in her ideal physical and mental state, so that she can perform at her best during the meet. The reason a pre-meet routine is so important is that it can help a gymnast calm down her nerves, get herself in the right mental zone, and prepare her body for peak performance. A pre-meet routine is also vital so that she can have control over her focus and attention, regulate her emotions, and produce consistent behaviors that are positive and helpful for achieving her performance goals.
On the flip side, there is a clear distinction between a pre-meet routine that helps a gymnast get in the zone and a pre-meet routine that feels superstitious and necessary in order for her to perform her best. For example, while it might be part of a gymnast’s routine to get dressed for her meets in the same order every time, if she starts to believe that she will not perform well if she doesn’t get dressed in that specific order, then this part of her pre-meet routine is not helpful. The purpose of getting dressed in the same way is to provide a familiar and calming routine to get the gymnast in a focused mental state, as opposed to being something she MUST do in a certain way in order to perform well. While the distinction between these two is a fine line, it is important for a gymnast to understand these differences since a pre-meet routine designed to enhance peak mental and physical state is helpful but a superstition based on fear is not.
What Exactly Should A Gymnast Include In Her Pre-Meet Routine?
A pre-meet routine can look different for every gymnast because of the individual way in which a gymnast deals with her nerves and emotions before a meet. Some gymnasts might get anxious, making their muscles tense up so that they are unable to perform their skills correctly. Other gymnasts might let their minds convince them that they will not do well and this can cause them to lose focus and motivation throughout the meet. Still other gymnasts might have boundless nervous energy that can cause them to overturn skills and take large hops on their landings. As you can see, every gymnast handles her nervous energy differently.
As a result, there is no magic formula to a pre-meet routine other than that it should prepare a gymnast to be in her most effective physical and mental state possible. Coming up with a pre-meet routine, then, is a very personal task that involves deliberate thought from the gymnast and is something that a gymnast should plan out ahead of time with the help of her coach, her sport psychologist, or her parents.
One of the most effective ways for a gymnast to figure out an optimal pre-meet routine is for her to think back to a past successful meet and remember the things she did to prepare herself for that meet. Was there anything about that meet that stood out or that she did differently? Did she get a good night of sleep the day before her meet? Did she eat a certain meal that gave her lots of energy? Did she watch a video of one of her past successful meets? Did she keep her mind focused on other things besides her meet? While it might not seem like there is much to analyze, the little habits a gymnast does before her meet can really add up even if they seem insignificant. So it’s important to be mindful of everything that goes on before a meet.
Here are some more questions for a gymnast to ask herself about her past meets:
- Before my meets, do I feel a lot of nervous energy that I have trouble containing or do I feel scared and start to shut down?
- Does my mind race with thousands of thoughts or do I have an easy time turning off my brain when I’m nervous?
- Do I lose energy in the middle of my meets or do I feel like I can sustain my energy throughout my whole meet?
- Do I lose focus while I’m at my meet or am I able to keep my mind on task and focus on each routine fully?
- Do I get distracted by other gymnasts or the crowd, or am I able to tune out everyone else while I compete?
- Do my muscles feel tense or do I have an easy time warming up and staying loose?
The answer to these questions can determine whether a gymnast might need calming music or motivating music prior to a meet. It can determine whether a gymnast needs to eat a bigger meal before she competes or something smaller and easier on the tummy. It can cue a gymnast in to whether she needs to meditate and take big breaths or repeat mantras and give herself an internal pep talk. Again, every gymnast will reach peak mental and physical states in different ways. The idea is for a gymnast to determine what things can get her to her own peak performance state before each meet, even if it’s different than what her teammate does.
Elements of a Pre-Meet Routine That Might Be Helpful For A Gymnast To Include
Here is a list of different pre-meet routine elements that a gymnast might incorporate into her own routine. Remember, the best gauge of what will be helpful to a gymnast is repeating what has helped her in the past when she had a successful meet.
- Create a playlist that energizes the gymnast into a good pre-performance state. Some gymnasts prefer pump-up music that inspires them while others prefer calming music that relaxes them.
- Repeat positive affirmations to herself. Positive affirmations can help a gymnast have more confidence about her ability to perform well. Repeating affirmations that feel good is one strategy that gymnasts use either while they are getting ready for their meet, on the drive to her meet, or before each event.
- Meditate. Some gymnasts deliberately calm their mind for 10-15 minutes before their meets. This silence and stillness can help them refocus their energy and calm their nerves.
- Take deep breaths. When pre-meet anxiety sets in, it’s easy to let the fight-or-flight response take over and send your gymnast into a nervous wreck. By taking deep breaths either at home before leaving, in the car on the way to the meet, or during the meet, a gymnast can actually calm down her nervous system and help her mind and body focus more effectively.
- Come up with a Mantra for the meet and repeat it throughout the day. Mantras are short words or phrases a gymnast might repeat to herself that help her focus her mind. In our Mindset Meet Journal we leave a spot for the gymnast to write in her mantra for that meet. Writing it down is a helpful cue throughout the meet.
- Watch a video of a past successful meet or a motivational-type video for inspiration. Some gymnasts are visual seekers and can gain a lot from watching a video with a positive message.
- Do the confidence walk. Some gymnasts need a physical reminder and a confidence walk or posture can sometimes be enough to do the trick. Your gymnast might stand with her shoulders back, chest and chin lifted, and belly pulled in and walk back and forth throughout her room. Just this simple act can completely change her mental state for the better. If you don’t believe us, try it for yourself!
- Imagine what a great meet feels like. Putting out to the Universe the positive feelings that a gymnast wants to feel after a great meet can turn the momentum in her favor and bring more of those feelings her way.
- Focus on one goal for the meet. A gymnast should come up with one goal for the meet and remind herself of this goal before and during her meet. This should be something she can control such as keeping her legs together in her tumbling passes rather than something outside of her control such as getting a 9.0 or greater on every event. Remember, gymnasts cannot control how strict the judges are or who their competition is so it’s best for them to focus on the things they can control at their meet.
- Journal. Some gymnasts like to journal how they’re feeling before their meet. Then, the day of their meet they might cross out any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
With all of that said, there are a few things that are super helpful across the board that every gymnast should incorporate into her pre-meet routine. These are:
- A gymnast should get a good night of sleep before her meet. Sleep is essential to having the energy and power a gymnast needs to do her best at her meet. Without sleep, her body gets sluggish, has slower metabolism, and loses its strength. Her mind loses focus and the ability to concentrate. So hands down, sleep is the number one most important thing to consider when a gymnast designs her Pre-Meet Routine. A gymnast should think about the ideal number of hours she needs (most gymnasts need between 8-12 hours of sleep) and count backwards from when she needs to wake up for her meet. So if a gymnast needs to wake up at 6am for an early meet, she would count backwards 10 hours and that would mean she needs to be in bed by 8pm. In addition, the amount of sleep she gets during the week prior to her meet is also a factor in how well she perfroms at her meet. Encouraging your gymnast to get good, consistent sleep the week of her meet will also help her.
- A gymnast should eat a healthy meal the night before and the morning of her meet. We’ve written an article about proper nutrition for gymnasts and one thing that is consistent across the literature is that gymnasts need to get about 60-70 percent of their calories from whole grain carbohydrates. This is especially true the night before a competition in order to have sufficient energy the next day. One thing that is for sure is that gymnasts should not skip breakfast on the day of their meet.
- A gymnast should visualize different aspects of her meet. We have mentioned this more than a few times which should be a clue that this is important work. Visualization is the process of a gymnast seeing herself perform certain skills to perfection or imagining the unfolding of what a particular meet might look like for her. Visualization is super important the evening before and the morning of a gymnast’s meet because it helps to ease her brain’s uncertainty about her meet.
- A gymnast should do a mental run-through of her routines. It’s important that a gymnast does a mental run-through of each of her routines before her meet and the best time to do this is either the night before or on the car ride to her meet. She should be sure to go through her mental routines in the same amount of time it takes her to do them in real time. A mental run-through is when the gymnast imagines herself going through her entire routine with perfect form. This is the best way to prepare her body and mind for her meet.
- A gymnast should prepare her meet bag with the essentials. One way for a gymnast to feel prepared for her meet is to include all the essentials in her meet bag. Typical items include a water bottle filled with water (skip the Gatorade and other electrolyte replacement drinks), a healthy snack (see our list of healthy snacks), her grip bag if she wears grips, a small makeup-type bag filled with hair essentials such as hairbands, hair clips, hair spray, scrunchies and a small brush, along with a Mindset Meet Journal so that she can keep track of how she’s feeling during her meet as well as log her scores. She might also include a first aid kit with bandaids, other essentials such as body glue and deodorant, and mantras or motivational cards that help her stay focused.
- A gymnast should complete the same warmup before her meet. A great way for a gymnast to get her body and mind into a rhythm for a meet is to repeat the same pre-meet warmup complex before each meet. One of the most effective things a gymnast can do to prepare for a meet is to attach a physical action with a mental one. We’ve come up with a pre-meet form and visualization complex that gymnasts can follow on the morning of their meets that incorporates both of these things. While a gymnast doesn’t have to follow this routine exactly, something similar to this would be extremely helpful for her. You can see our Pre-Meet Form and Visualization Complex below (and be sure to download a copy of it at the top of this article).
GymnasticsHQ’s Pre-Meet Form and Visualization Complex
Here is a watered down version of the pre-meet complex we are learning this month in SkillTrakker for Rock your Meet Season month. To get the entire complex and access to all the other drills we are learning this month, sign up using the previous link, and then shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will send you the drills and worksheets you’ve missed.
- Grow Tall in Relevé- Hold 20 secs. Stand in a tight body position in relevé (on your toes) with your arms by your ears. Now see if you can grow a little taller- push through the balls of your feet, squeeze your bottom a little harder and pull your arms up to the ceiling. Feel this extension, and think about extending like this during each skill in your routine. Hold this for 20 seconds while squeezing every muscle in your body.
- Touch your Toes- Hold for 20 secs. Then reach down to touch your toes, keeping your legs squeezed together and straight. Hold for 20 seconds.
- Walk hands out to Plank Position- Hold for 20 secs. Put your hands on the ground (bend your legs if you need to, keeping them squeezed together) and walk your feet out so that you are in a plank position. Squeeze your bottom, and your stomach, getting as tight as you can while you are looking at your hands. Hold for 20 secs.
- Walk hands back to feet and stand up. Walk your hands back to your feet and stand up.
- Pike Sit- Visualize your Vault. Then sit on the floor in a pike sit with your hands on the floor next to your thighs. Your back should be straight, your shoulders pressed down and your stomach squeezed. You should be looking straight ahead with your chin up. Make sure your legs are squeezed together at your knees and ankles, they are super straight and your feet are pointed. Think about how you want your feet to be pointed in everything you do at your meet. Hold while you visualize yourself doing a perfect vault. Imagine that feeling of saluting the judges and then being ready to run fast and explode with power. See yourself starting to run and then increasing in speed as you get closer to the springboard. Imagine yourself jumping on the board and exploding off with as much power and speed as possible. See yourself flying through the air with perfect tight body form and rebounding off the table with so much force that you fly up through the air. Imagine how strong you feel as you propel your body through the air. See yourself approaching the ground and imagine how confident you feel as you know you are at just the right angle to land with certainty. Imagine how great it feels to turn and salute the judges knowing you did the best vault you’ve ever done.
- Straddle Sit- Visualize your Bar Routine. Then move your feet out so you are in a straddle sit. While you are sitting in the straddle make sure your chin is up, you are looking straight ahead, your back is flat and your legs are squeezed with feet pointed. Hold while you visualize yourself doing a perfect bar routine. Imagine what it feels like as you salute the judges with confidence. Feel how strong your body is as it pushes and pulls you through your bar routine. Notice how tight your form is and how easy it feels to glide through your routine. See yourself sticking your landing and then saluting the judges with a big smile on your face.
- Pike Sit- Visualize your Beam Routine. Move your legs back to a pike position. Make sure your legs are squeezed together and your feet are pointed. Visualize yourself doing a beam routine. Imagine how sure you feel when you get up to compete. Imagine your mount and feel yourself effortlessly flowing from your mount into the rest of your routine. Feel the stability of your body and how sure-footed you are. Imagine how easy it feels to be perfectly aligned with the middle of the beam as you do your acrobatic elements. See your chin up and your shoulders back. Your jumps and leaps are high and your form is the best it’s ever been. Imagine how confident you feel as you move through your dismount into your landing. The ground feels strong underneath your feet as you land and you salute the judges knowing you’ve done the best routine of your life.
- Straddle Sit- Visualize your Floor Routine. Move your legs to a straddle position. Make sure your feet are pointed and your legs are straight. Visualize yourself doing a perfect floor routine. Imagine how excited you feel to start your routine so you can have fun. Feel the springiness of the floor and how it propels you to do big leaps, jumps, and tumbling passes. Imagine yourself tumbling with perfect form and with such power that you flip and tumble like you have springs attached to your feet. Feel the ground below you as you dance through your routine with dynamics and fun, enjoying every second of it. Imagine how centered and aligned you are in all your turns and leaps. Imagine what it would be like to have total control over your body as you finish up your routine. Feel how great it feels to salute the judges knowing you had fun and did the most technically correct version of your floor routine ever!
- Straight Body Position on your Stomach- Hold for 20 secs. Then walk your hands out so you are flat on the floor and move your legs in a circle so they are behind you and you are laying flat on your stomach. Your arms should be by your ears. Squeeze your core, your bottom and your legs. Think about how you will be using this tight-body position during your routines at your meet. Hold for 20 seconds.
- Straight Body Position on your Back- Hold for 20 secs. Roll over to your back staying as tight as possible while you roll. Make sure your legs are squeezed straight and together, your feet are pointed and your core is squeezed. Hold for 20 seconds. Then stand up. You’ve completed your pre-meet form and visualization routine.
Putting It All Together
Once a gymnast has decided on the elements of her pre-meet routine that are the most helpful, she should then write them down in a checklist format. This list should be copied and a blank one should be used before each meet. Having a checklist helps the gymnast remember what to do and can provide her with a feeling of certainty to help her combat the unknowns of her meet. At first a gymnast should start with just a few things to do and gradually increase this list as needed. The most important part is that this pre-meet routine becomes a consistent habit that she does before every meet to increase her confidence and calm her nerves. Over time this checklist might need to be tweaked as the gymnast finds she needs different strategies to help her get into a peak physical and mental state.
A pre-meet routine is vital to ensuring a gymnast enters her meet in the best physical and mental state possible. While a pre-meet routine might look different for each gymnast, it should include elements that help a gymnast calm down her nerves and reach peak physical and mental state. The best way to come up with a pre-meet routine is for a gymnast to think back to previous successful meets and remember what worked. Then she can write down the things that help her the most in a checklist format and use this checklist before every meet.