So you have a competition this weekend. Here are some tips to help you stay calm, focused, and confident.
1. Switch from Practice Mindset to Performance Mindset. Training may have been geared toward making corrections such as, correcting arm positions, pointing toes, or tweaking technique on skills. This is called the practice mindset. The athlete must switch from practice mindset to performance mindset for competition. This means they must leave their training behind and focus on their performance.

Don’t try to make changes or corrections during the competition. What ever you have been training in the gym is how you will compete.

2. Focus on the Process, not the Outcome. I understand that awards, scores, and wins are important to the athlete. But focusing on awards, scores, or wins do not help the athlete perform. If the athlete would like to win the competition, then what do they have to do to win? Let’s break it down. For a gymnast, cheerleader, ice skater, or athlete who has a set routine the athlete will want to perform that routine without deduction. In order to perform the routine without deductions, they must perform each skill without deduction. In order to perform each skill without deduction they must focus on HOW to do the skill.

Focusing on the NOW is the only way to get the outcome you desire. Use your mental choreography to keep your thought on your skills.

3. Use Powerful Self-Talk. The night before a competition, hours before the competition, or even during the competition can be very nerve racking and sometimes an athlete will think negative thoughts. What if I fall? What if I forget my routine? I am not sure I am ready for this competition. These little thoughts can grow into larger thoughts that can increase anxiety. These thoughts are not helpful. Worrying about things that may or may not happen will only cause more stress. Change all negative thoughts into powerful self-talk. Powerful self-talk are statements that will empower performance. Statements like “I am ready, I can take on any challenge, or just do what you do in practice” are helpful because they set the tone for the athlete’s mood and behavior.

Whatever you think you will believe, and whatever you believe is how you will behave. If you think you will fall, you will focus on falling and then you probably will fall. If you think you are ready for the competition, then you will believe that your skills are solid and you probably will perform your skill aggressive and with confidence.

3. Trust yourself. It is natural for an athlete to want to doubt themselves in competition. They may doubt that they will be able to perform the skills in that one routine even if they can “hit” in practice. They may feel that in order to “hit” their performance they need to be careful and cautious. When athletes are in stressful situations like important competitions they may feel that controlling their skills or trying to throw their skills harder is a good idea. But when an athlete changes their skills by being careful or by trying harder, it changes the muscle memory and the timing of the skill.

Your muscles KNOW how to do the skills, let you body do what it was trained to do. Trust that you will put your body in the right position. Trust yourself.

4. No expectations. Expectations are not goals. Expectations are demands that have a belief attached to them. For example, an athlete may expect that they must have a perfect routine because if they don’t they think they failed on that event. They may expect to get a certain score because if they don’t they will not win. Or they may expect that they must have a great warm-up in order to have a great competition. These expectations can add extra pressure and anxiety. Expectations make an athlete focus on what you think you SHOULD do rather than focus on HOW to do the skill or routine. If an athlete has an expectation that they must have a perfect routine in order to get a high score, then during their routine if the athlete has a slight wobble the athlete may start to worry that they just ruined their chance to get a high score.

Free yourself from expectations and focus on the process. During the routine you can think about your skills and use their mental choreography.

Competition can be challenging and exciting. Use these tips to help you perform with confidence. Competition is a time to show off what you have be training in the gym. It is like taking a test. The studying is done and it is time to perform. Don’t worry about awards, scores, or winning. We can’t control these external rewards so make sure to focus on what you can do. You can use powerful self-talk and focus on HOW to do your skills. Use your mental choreography and trust in your training. Free yourself from expectations and perform with confidence. The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is being mentally tough. Leave your fears behind and go into this competition calm, focused, and confident. Good Luck!