Let’s talk about the pre-season pitfalls. Think about, for yourself, what do you tend to do when there’s a competition coming up? When there’s something down the line. You’ve been in pre-season, working away and doing your thing when all of a sudden the clock starts ticking a little louder… there’s a competition coming.
- What changes for you?
- Do you start to work harder?
- Do you over do it?
- Are you overthinking?
- Have you started training more hours?
- Are you getting more stressed out?
What are you Doing Differently?
Think about what you’re doing differently compared to when there isn’t a competition on its way. When I was getting ready for competitions when I was younger, I remember laying in bed and visualizing. I would visualize for hours on end, over and over. I was SO nervous about the competition that I would just keep seeing my bar routine in my head (which didn’t actually help – not the way I was doing it).
Many athletes eat their feelings and their stress. They tell themselves “I’m working hard so I can eat whatever I want,” but then it backfires because you end up feeling terrible, telling yourself how you shouldn’t have done that. Your body doesn’t feel good. What you put in your body is so critical: make sure that you’re feeding your body and resting. Meanwhile, you’ve got to train your mind and your body.
Of course, nobody’s perfect. You’ve got to ground yourself and get real with what’s actually going on and keep doing what you’ve always been doing.
Another member said “I like to hangout out with my gym friends outside of the gym. So then we can just be together, forget about gymnastics for a while and have a lot of fun before season.”
That’s what I call a positive distraction. For some people who are over-thinkers and get stressed out, I recommend doing things that make you feel good. Of course, keep it within reason. You don’t want to hang out with your friends and eat things that don’t make you feel good, or stay up too late watching videos all night. You don’t want to do that, but it’s good to be with your friends that you train with, having fun and remembering why you love each other. Put yourself in situations where you’re not worried about how you’re going to do at the competition. Keep it light.
Another girl that I work with needs to have fun stuff planned. If there are multiple days of competition she will go out that day with her family, go shopping, go see a movie. Then she’ll warm up and compete, and then the next day she’ll spend time with her sister in the hotel. Of course, you don’t want to use up valuable energy, keep it mellow. Keep your mind off of the competition and do something fun. That way you can enjoy your life even though you do have a competition coming up.
Pre-Season Do’s & Don’ts
Do Consider the Cumulative Effect of Your Training
You can’t do anything the week of the competition that will, in any way, change the way you compete.
This is something that people think they need to do, that last minute effort. They feel as though they’ve got to get as many sessions in as they can right before a competition.
Unfortunately, it takes time. It takes the cumulative effect of your mental training too. You have to make sure that when it comes time to compete, you’ve already laid down the foundation to have your skills and mental training in order. If you do that in advance, you can be confident, knowing, “I got this. I’ve done everything I could.” You’re not feeling guilty, you’re not feeling bummed. You know you’ve done everything and you can just see what happens.
Do Keep it in Perspective
Earlier today, a figure skater explained it in the perfect way: competitions are just “check-ins.”
This skater used to be a terrified mess before a competition. After some work on letting go of perfectionism and having more fun, she’s able to show up at meets knowing, “I did my training. I’ve handled my food, my rest, all of my training, both mental and physical. Now I just check-in and ask myself, ‘how’s my training going?’”
When you get into that mindset, competitions serve the purpose of pointing out what you need to improve, and what’s going well. That’s it. Then you go back to practice and focus on areas that need work.
Do Train Smarter
You don’t want to train harder, because you should be training hard the entire time. You want to train smarter. Athletes like swimmers who have a taper or people who actually do change up their training right beforehand know this well. Don’t just thrash because you feel like you’ve got to get the last bit of training in. Sustain effort throughout the entire pre-season because that’s what’s going to get you through the season.
Do Keep Doing What Works
You guys know what’s working. Don’t change it up just because the clock is ticking. Keep doing the same thing you’re doing and then consider each competition as a check-in. You’re just checking in, it’s like a little experiment. Ask yourself these questions:
- How’s my equipment?
- How’s my training?
- Am I more prepared than last time?
- How’s everything going?
Fantastic. And then next time you’ll be more prepared, and improvement will follow.
Do Practice Patience
This is really hard when you’re going up that pre-season rollercoaster.
Getting centered can really help. Be where you are. If you find that you’re getting ahead of yourself, just be where you are and focus on personal progress.
One thing that I really like to encourage people to do is to set goals that light you on fire. Goals that make you really excited (and a little bit nervous). Big goals. They can be outcome goals, or getting a personal best.
Focus on all of your goals when you’re in pre-season, because that’s what gets you to practice and helps you make good decisions. It’s what makes you do the uncomfortable stuff. If you’ve done mental toughness bootcamp (a 4-week course available in the PerformHappy Training Center) you already have the unshakable belief that you can and will reach your goals.
Here’s the key: in competition your goals disappear. Because goals are in the future. When you’re competing you do not need to be in the future. You have to be in the moment.
In the moment, there are no places, medals, scores, losers or winners.
You’re present, focusing on what’s important now: doing what you have to do. That’s where people get hung up. Especially people with timed events, like shooters and swimmers. They have their mind so set on a time that they pull themselves into the future. When, really, all they need to be doing is executing.
Just keep doing what you’re doing. We’ve already talked about this in the do’s. Do what you know works for you and don’t rush.
Don’t Go Against Your Gut
This is the main reason why people get mental blocks in the pre-season. Because your gut says “I don’t feel ready, I don’t feel safe or prepared. I need a spot” but your competitive nature goes “I don’t want to need a spot. I don’t want a mat, I don’t have time for that.” Then you go against your gut and your brain revolts and won’t let you do it anymore.
Keep trusting your gut. If you need a spot, just take it. Bit by bit. Even if your coach and parents are yelling at you, keep moving forward little by little and trust your gut.
This one eats athletes alive. This tendency to compare yourself to other people. Because when you get honest about it, you’re never really comparing reality to reality. You’re comparing this warped perspective that you have on yourself to this warped perspective on them. It’s really easy to look at people and go “They’ve got it all together. They’re so lucky.” Meanwhile, we’re in our own minds going “Oh my gosh. I screwed up. I’m the worst.”
Here’s a secret for you: They’re probably doing the exact same thing. There’s no use in allowing what other people might be doing or thinking affect you.
If you’re thinking about how someone else is better than you, they’re getting the skills and you’re not, that can make you start to feel frantic. It’ll make you want to change up what you’re doing. Your focus should continuously be about inching forward every single week.
You can’t control what other people are doing, so don’t do it. Comparing is not helpful. I’m here to tell you that if you’re comparing yourself and not coming out ahead, it’s not useful during the pre-season or during competition.
Don’t Let Fear of Failure Change Your Strategy
This is a big one for thinking sports such as baseball or swimming. You have a strategy that you’ve trained, your body knows what to do. But then all of a sudden the pressure is on and you change everything up. You get conservative. You start trying not to lose, rather than playing to win.
This happens in every single sport. All of a sudden, maybe you’re winning and doing okay but then you go “Uh oh. I can’t lose this,” then you change your strategy. That happens in competition and it also happens in pre-season. Don’t change what you’re doing because you’re afraid.
Bottom line: this is not the time to make sweeping changes. Your muscle memory is already built. Your brain patterns are in place. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve mental or physical toughness, it just means that you have to have reasonable expectations and avoid burning yourself out in the process.
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