Top 5 Mistakes Athletes Make in Pre-Season
Hi, everybody. Today I am going to talk a little bit about the five biggest mistakes that athletes are making in the preseason that kill your confidence. For gymnasts, you are in the fall and you’re getting closer and closer to January when season starts. It’s been much anticipated since we were without half a season last year. A lot of people are getting excited, but cautiously optimistic about this upcoming season. That’s why today I want to talk about that and see if we can prevent something I’ve talked about in the past called Nervous November.
Returning with Confidence
What I’ve noticed with a lot of the athletes I’m working with is that they came back from COVID and they were feeling good. They were out of the gym for maybe a couple months and they felt confident and strong. They were getting their skills back, they were excited, and just so grateful to be back in the gym and back to practice. Now, if you’re not a gymnast, you can probably relate to that on some level to that. You’re probably excited to be back practicing with teammates.
Then there’s this shift that happens. You go from, “We’re not in season, we’re just training. This is so fun! We’re doing drills, we’re hanging out with our friends, coaches laughing, everybody’s in a good mood,” to all of a sudden, “It’s time to get serious. It’s time to get really focused.”
Noticing a Shift
For gymnasts, you’re starting routines, and what happens is you start seeing other people doing their routines and looking good. Then you start thinking, “Oh, I should be looking better. I should be feeling better. I still feel a little shaky, and I’m not as confident. I’m not feeling as strong as I would like to be.” All of the sudden, you’re not having as much fun now because you feel like you have to be perfect and hold it together. Maybe you feel like you have to prove to your coach that you deserve this.
For those of you collegiate gymnasts, you might feel like you have to prove your spot on the team. For those of you who are still between levels, you think you have to prove that you earned that level, that they’re letting you train or prove that you can get it together to get to that next level that you really want to be a part of.
What you start to notice is that you are stressed out and you’re feeling the pressure. What we want to be experiencing instead of this is satisfaction. You want to be feeling, “Yea! I’ve been training. Yeah, I’m holding it together, I’m feeling good, I’m calm. My confidence is increasing practice by practice. I am happy to be here and I’m excited!”
Top 5 Mistakes
Here is why you’re maybe not feeling that way. These are the five mistakes that athletes make in the preseason. These are the top five mistakes you make that take you from excitement and composure and calm confidence to stress and freak out, and then you get inconsistent. Okay.
1. Time is Ticking
Thinking about that, I remember when I was a coach. I would say things like, “There are seven weeks till our first meet,” and, “There are four practices until our first meet… are you ready?” Coaches like to get really dramatic about this because a lot of coaches are stressed out, too. You know you want to do well. They want you to do well. They want the team to do well, and they want to look good. They want you to be happy, so there’s a lot of emphasis on time.
If you’re focused on the time that you have or don’t have left, or basically if you’re focused on time at all, you’re setting yourself up for stress. Think about it – in July, do you think about how much time you have? Maybe that’s in a favorable way, like, “Oh, I have so much time,” whereas if you think, “I don’t have much time at all. I’m getting old,” all it does is tense you up and stress you out and make your skills less consistent. So focusing on time – big mistake.
2. Comparing Yourself to Others
I know if I tell a 13-year-old, “Don’t compare yourself to other people,” well that’s basically their whole job in life, to figure out where they fall in the social arena. Am I better or am I worse? Am I stronger? Am I weaker? Who am I and where do I fit? Your whole developmental task as an adolescent or a teenager is to compare yourself to others and see where you fit, so to ask you to stop doing that is not going to be an overnight solution. But, if you can at least identify that every time you watch your teammate do something well and feel bad about yourself, you are killing your confidence. We want to just get the focus off of the time off of what other people are doing.
I see this with swimmers and I see this with basically every adolescent or teenage athlete I have ever worked with. Even grownups, business professionals, compare yourself to others. “I should be here” and “What if I don’t…” That leads us to our third mistake…
3. “What if” Thinking
What if I don’t get this skill? What if I can’t compete? What if the meet gets canceled? What if I get hurt? What if…. that is really not helping. If you find that you are playing that “what if” game often, you’re not doing yourself any favors, you’re just increasing the pressure and the stress. What you’re doing is creating a fake scenario. You’re transporting your brain into this fake scenario of getting hurt, or you not being there, or you being so disappointed and you’re painting this picture of everything going wrong.
Then your brain goes, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. We have to avoid that at all costs. We don’t even want to do a beam routine. We don’t really want to do the skill at all because this sounds horrible.” That “what if” thinking is you sending yourself into a future reality that does not exist, which is making your brain freak out, which is making your body tense, which is making your skills not consistent.
4. Taking Coach Stress Personally
I mentioned this because the coaches get all wound-up about season coming. “We have to be perfect. You have to be perfect every time,” and if you take that personally, you’re not doing yourself any favors. A lot of coaches have different methods of motivating. I did this when I was a coach. I would say, “We have to work harder, everybody. We’re running low on time. We need to be better. We need to be perfect. No, that wasn’t good enough. You don’t want to look like that when you’re in front of a judge!”
For me, a lot of that came from my ego. I wanted to look good. I wanted my team to get the banner and to get the metals. I wanted to say, “Oh yeah, I’m with that team. We’re the best.” In those moments where I was riding those kids, I was not always thinking, “What does this kid need right now? This kid needs a little patience, a little compassion. I think this kid needs a little love, a compliment just to keep the motivation going. ” I was just like, “You better make me look good or I’m going to…”
I like to think I got better over my years of coaching, but that could be there for some of you athletes. You might have a coach who says, “You need to make me look good or else get off my team.” You can, you can look at that and go,
That is not about me. If you didn’t exist, the coach would still have that attitude toward whoever is there. So don’t take it personally.
5. Focusing on the Problem
Now, what I mean by that is you’re focusing on what’s not perfect. You’re in this preseason and you’re at about 80% of where you’d like to be. When you hit the floor at that first meet, or you hit the pool or enter that first competition, you want to be at 100%, right? Maybe you’re at 80. If you focus all of your energy on that 20%, that’s not working, you’re going to feel like you’re not prepared. You’re going to feel like you’re not ready.
You do want to focus on that because that’s what you need to improve, but you’re going to be better off if you can look at it and go, “Okay, I’m prepared over here. This is feeling really great. I am so proud of this. That’s working out!” Get your laser beam off of what’s not good and onto what is. What is going to help to build the motivation and the confidence snowball?
You start with what you have that’s good, that’s going well, and then you pick up more and more and more as you go. This allows you to relax. It allows you to flow and allows you to have fun. You can still work on the things that need improvement, but you don’t shortchange yourself for the progress that you’ve been making.
Find Your “July Mindset”
Here’s what you need to do to fix that problem. Those mistakes that you’re making. I want you to find your July mindset. What I mean by that (gymnasts, you probably know what I’m talking about) is it’s July. Nobody is really in that pressure mode. Everything’s bonus. You’re just getting better – you’re trying new skills, you’re kind of playing around with stuff, and you’re thinking, “Oh, this is kind of fun. What if I try that?” You want to be in that July mindset all the time. That’s what I would recommend for those athletes who get into that super-focused mindset, who are not super consistent, or if they are, they’re not enjoying it.
A lot of the athletes that I see, they start to get inconsistent as they go up through the levels because of the amount of pressure that they feel coming from themselves, maybe coming from others, but mostly from themselves. If that athlete could go out there with a July mindset of like, “Hey, let’s just see what happens.”
When you are totally open with no expectations, that is when you’re going to reach what I call my Holy Grail of mental training – self-trust.
No Flow Without Self-Trust
If you are worried about expectations, worried about what could go wrong, worried about that one thing that might not work out, or what your coach says, you’re not going to be able to trust yourself. If you don’t trust yourself, you can’t trust your training and you cannot flow. That flow is where you have those effortless performances. They’re not effortless, but they feel effortless. And then, just like that, boom, boom, boom, boom. You just hit. That requires a July mindset.
If you want to have a July mindset in January or February or March, when you were in the thick of it, you have to be consistent, right? A lot of people say “I want to compete. like I practice”. Well…
If you want to compete like you practice, you have to be consistent.
If you’re consistent in practice, you’re consistent in competition, in theory. But really, if you want it to be consistent, physically, you have to be consistent mentally. So if you have a July mindset and a November mindset, that’s not consistent. You need to get into the mindset that allows you to flow and feel good and believe in yourself and be confident, then that mindset stays consistent. If you’re in that mindset throughout the entire preseason, during-season, post-season, repeat – that’s when you are going to really be able to have exponential improvement physically, because your mind is so consistent.
Keep Doing What You’re Doing!
Don’t shift your thinking! When season gets closer, keep doing what’s working. If something’s not working, then figure out what’s going to work.
If you feel like you really want to lock down your mindset as you’re heading into the season, then I have a free download for you. It’s called the sport confidence roadmap. It is seven steps to unshakable sport confidence. I talk about the exact seven steps that I take athletes through that allows them to have that self-trust. They become aware, build confidence, and they trust themselves. If you want to download that, you can get your free download by clicking here. There’s also a quiz in there that shows you where your weak points are and helps you to figure out which of those seven steps maybe need the most attention. So go check it out and stop making those mistakes! Everybody, let’s find July. Thank you for watching. Thank you for listening and I’ll see you soon.