You’ve been working hard in pre-season, training new skills, and waiting patiently to unveil your hard work to the world. The start of meet season is a time of renewed exuberance and excitement to begin competing again and it brings with it a sense of hope! You might wonder, “Will I test out of my current level this year?” or “Will I do well and have fun at my meets?” or “Will I be really nervous when I compete?” There are many unknowns going into competition season but one thing is for sure. It’s the time to put everything you’ve learned into one polished package and let your personality shine for the judges.
So how can you ensure you have a successful meet season? While everyone is on a different competition schedule, there are few things you can consistently do to help you succeed and live up to your potential during meet season. If you’re nearing the end of your meet season then be sure to bookmark this article to re-read it at the beginning of next season so the information is fresh. In the meantime, however, you can still implement these tips into your current gymnastics routine.
Here are a few tips to help you have a successful gymnastics meet season:
Tip 1: Know Your Routines Inside and Out.
It goes without saying that you’re practicing and polishing your routines in practice. But are you practicing them at home too? Do you know them so well you can do them in your sleep? Is your body so trained that it can go through the motions with very little deliberate thought from your brain?
If not, then you need to keep practicing your routines at home. While you might get to run through routines at the gym, chances are you don’t get to do a high number of repetitions because there isn’t enough time with your teammates needing to do their routines too. But practicing your routines is something you can make time for at home. Of course, save your big skills for when you’re in the gym. You don’t have to go through full routines with all your skills. What you should do, however, is run through the dance elements over and over and when you get to a big skill imagine yourself doing it in your mind. Your body should have seen itself doing these routines hundreds of times before you ever step foot into a meet.
Shannon Miller, Olympic medalist, was known for doing the most repetition of routines in the gym while she was training for the Olympics. When she got up to compete, her body knew what to do because it had done it so many times before in practice. Not only did she train more repetitions than any other gymnast, she also did each and every routine full out as if she was in a competition. While it’s not possible for you to do your routines full out at home, you can certainly put the effort into every single routine you do in the gym. It’s easy to just get through a routine and cross it off your lift but if you are deliberate about making each routine the best then your results will be that much better.
When you’re running through your routines, here are some things to think about. Practice keeping your chin lifted, shoulders back, and chest held proud. This posture will help you feel more confident and as you practice this over and over it will become second nature. Judges like to see confidence when you’re performing so this will not only help you feel more confident, it can help you score higher in meets!
Tip 2: Track your Meets.
One of the best ways to improve throughout the season is to track how you’re doing at your meets in order to see if there are ways for you to improve. All successful elite gymnasts know the power of tracking. They track workouts, conditioning, meets, nutrition, and everything in between. So you should too!
Using a meet log like our GymnasticsHQ’s Mindset Meet Journal is crucial to help you assess what worked for you and what didn’t at each meet. Then you can decide what you need to practice more of in between meets. For example, after a meet you might ask yourself questions like:
- Was I nervous for my meet?
- Did I follow a pre-meet routine?
- What was my focus level (was I distracted during my meet)?
- On a scale of 1-10, what was my effort level?
- Were my thoughts positive or negative during my meet?
- What parts of my meet felt hard versus what parts felt easy?
- What do I need to work on this week in practice?
You have to continually assess your progress and make modifications along the way. If a certain pre-meet routine used to work but doesn’t work anymore then you need to change it. If you used to get inspired by a certain playlist but now you’re bored of the songs then you need to make a new playlist. If your energy is low during your meet then you need to change your pre-meet nutrition or bring extra snacks to your meet. However, if you’re not aware of these things, then you can’t fix them. So pay special attention to everything that goes on during your meet and use that as valuable information for improvement.
Below YouTuber and gymnast, Chalk It Up Buttercup, reviews our journal and gives you an idea of what you can expect from a super valuable resource like this. But whether you use our Meet Journal or use a blank notebook, the idea is the same – track your meets!
Tip 3: Train your Weaknesses.
Typically in pre-season you’ve been learning new skills and perfecting the old ones. But there are still things that you’re not as strong on when meet season starts. Maybe your split leap is messy and gives you lots of deductions. Maybe you’re not as flexible as you need to be. Maybe you always stutter step into your vault and lose speed and power as a result. Maybe your toes are not pointed as hard as they should be (*as judges we see bent legs and flexed feet ALL the time so every gymnast can work on this!).
It’s easy to let these things slide and focus on other things that are more fun to do. But the bottom line is that you are only as good as your weaknesses. If you have free time and the choice to do 10 cartwheels on beam which you can already easily do or 10 full turns which you wobble out of every time, which one would you pick to work on? Believe it or not, most athletes practice the skill that feels easier because it’s more enjoyable to do. But doing that just makes their strong skills stronger and their weak skills weaker. Spending time on your strengths is time away from working on your weaknesses and that will never help you get better.
Elite gymnasts know how important it is to train their weaknesses. When Simone Biles was training to be an elite gymnast she knew she was weak on bars so she begged her coach to let her be a specialist and just train on the other three events. But her very smart coach knew that if she put in the work she could get better at bars and have a chance to be an all-around contender. If Simone had only worked on her strong events then she would never have been the amazing all-around gymnast she is today.
Right now, take a few minutes to write down some of your weaknesses on each event. Don’t go crazy! The idea is not to point out all the things you are doing wrong, but to pick a few things that you could do better on. Now create a simple checklist with these weaknesses for each day of the week. Aim to work on your weaknesses every day of the week (unless they require equipment at the gym and in that case, wait until you have practice). Start seeing your weaknesses as part of a fun game you can play! How often can you train these weaknesses and check off a box on your list? At the end of the week you might even reward yourself for working so hard.
Tip 4: Get Feedback from Others.
Sometimes it’s scary to hear what other people have to say about your routines. You might not think you did well and you don’t really want to that validated by someone else. But as scary as feedback can be, it’s important because it helps you get better. You can take the information that you learn and use that to improve.
For example, you might ask your parents, friends, teammates, or coaches a few questions like:
- Do I look confident when I do my routines?
- Is my form good or do I need to work harder on pointing my toes, straightening my arms and legs, and staying tight?
- Am I flowing through my routines with good dynamics or does it look too slow or too rushed?
- Is there anything you notice when I do my routines that I can improve on?
Scoring well at meets means perfecting all the elements and it’s possible that there are some simple things you can fix to improve your score. But if you don’t ask, you won’t know! Coaches are typically the one to give you feedback but sometimes they might not share that information with you or might have been watching you for so long that they don’t even notice slight changes you can make!
Another way to get feedback is to watch your own routines after your meet. When you watch yourself, is there anything YOU notice about how your performed? For some of us, it’s hard to watch ourselves on video, but it’s an important tool to getting better. You can review each routine after your meet and see if there is anything that stands out to you. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at reviewing your videos. Remember that the point is to find things you can improve on, not to pick out all the things you did wrong. We all have room for improvement and if you focus on improving one or two things from each meet you will see yourself become a better gymnast in no time.
Tip 5: Incorporate Mindset Work Into Your Daily Routine.
The most confident and successful gymnasts spend many hours training their brains to succeed. The best news about mindset work is that although it might be hard to do at first, it gets easier over time AND it’s something that you can train your brain to do. So don’t worry if you’re not good at it yet. Like any gymnastics skill, it takes practice.
So what kind of mindset work should you be doing? Two of the most important mindset skills are Imagery and Positive Self-Talk. You should be training these daily. In imagery, you use your mind to see yourself doing your routines with perfect form. During positive self-talk, you first become aware of the words you’re speaking to yourself and then you work to change them into more positive statements.
The reason mindset work is so effective is because your brain can’t tell the difference between a thought you are thinking and something that is actually happening to you. Your goal, then, is to make your imagery as realistic as possible. To practice imagery, set aside a few minutes each day when your mind is the calmest, typically first thing when you wake up in the morning (but you can practice this before you go to sleep too). Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take some slow, deep breaths in and out and focus on relaxing your muscles. Then pick one event and imagine yourself going through your routine. Imagery works best when you can bring in multiple senses such as sound, touch, and smell. If you were going through your bar routine, for example, you might imagine what it sounds like in the gym around you while you are saluting the judges. Is it quite? Do you hear the crowd talking? Is there music playing? Then, as you see yourself going through each element of your routine, imagine what your hands feel like as they are gripping the bar. Do you have rips that are sore? Are you grabbing the bar tight? Are you wearing grips and if so, how do they feel on your fingers? When you finish your routine you might imagine what it’s like to turn and salute the judges and how you walk away confidently, with your head held high. After you get through this routine, do it again! The more repetitions you can imagine, the more effective imagery will be. Repeat this will all your routines.
Positive self-talk is another mindset tool worth practicing because your brain is sensitive to what it’s being told. If you’re constantly saying negative things to yourself then you’ll start to believe those things over time. To get started with having more positive self-talk, keep a log of all the things you say to yourself for one full day. At the end of the day, read through the things you wrote down and see if they are mostly positive or mostly negative. For all the negative thoughts that you had, turn them into positive statements. For example, if you notice yourself saying “I’ll never be good at this” you can cross that statement out and change it to “I can keep working at this.” Keep a list of all the positive statements you created from your negative ones and read through those each day. Again, like imagery, creating more positive self-talk takes time and consistency. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at it.
The beginning of meet season can feel like an exciting new start, almost like the beginning of a new year. Remember that in order to be successful you have to train your routines over and over so that you know them inside and out. It’s also important to track your meets and use that information to improve on each meet. One of the most important things you can do to have a successful meet season is to train your weaknesses so that you are getting better at the things that are usually hard for you or that give you the most deductions during meet season. Getting feedback from others is a vital tool that can help you assess what you need to work on most in order to improve. Finally, mindset work is the most underutilized tool but one of the most effective for improving in gymnastics. We’re sure that if you implement these tips you’ll have one of your most successful meet seasons ever. Good luck!