Creating A Mental Game Plan for Competition

Hey everybody, it’s me, Coach Rebecca. Today I want to talk to you about your mental game plan for competition, what is going on in your mind when you’re getting ready to compete, and how much control you happen to have over that.  So if you’re the kind of person who gets the jitters before a meet or competition, then you’re not alone. Some of the best athletes in the world get nervous, but what you have in place when you get nervous, makes all the difference in how you are going to end up performing.

Competition without a mental game plan

So let’s talk about this getting nervous problem we run into. You get nervous, then you get tense, then you make mistakes. After the mistake then you overthink, then you overanalyze your performance. You killed it in practice, but when it came time to perform when it counted I totally fell apart or I underperformed.

What coming up with a competition mental game plan looks like

The solution to that unpredictable, erratic, tense pre-competition situation, is to have a mental game plan. There is magic in having a game plan. One of my favorite exercises that I do with athletes and Perform Happy is where we go ahead and lay it out, and we figure out exactly how we are going to get to our dream, our goal. Once we have a mental game plan, then we dig up all the obstacles. What could get in your way, and let’s make a plan for dealing with those obstacles? Once we have that mental game plan you don’t have to worry about all the what-ifs and the unknowns, because you have a plan.

How having a mental game plan changes you as an athlete

You go from this threatened state of being to a person who has a plan, a person who has options. And when you are a person who has options you know that a mistake is not the end of the world, you are resilient. That gives you this increased level of competence, just knowing that things could go wrong and that you will still be okay. You have what it takes to do hard things. That is the importance of having a mental game plan for competition.

When do I utilize my plan?

Using your mental game plan doesn’t start the day of the competition, it can start the week before, the night before, and the day of. It’s important to have a mental game plan for each of those. Even if you think you don’t have a mental game plan I would bet that you do. It might look like you realize you have a meet in a week and you become a stressed-out mess. Then you over-push yourself at the gym and then you are stressed and mad at yourself that you aren’t hitting your skills and performing at practice.

The night before you are too in your head and you don’t get nearly enough sleep. When you wake up your stomach is in knots because you are so nervous so you don’t eat and then your body is not ready to perform. All of that might lead you to lash out at your parents or your family not because they have done anything wrong but because you are so stressed. Does that sound like you even a little bit? That’s okay, it’s normal. So let’s talk more about that competition mental game plan to avoid all of that crazy.

Your current mental game plan and your new mental game plan

So let’s look at your current mental game plan. Ask yourself, what do you do before a competition. And then ask yourself, is it working? Are you getting the results you want? Probably not. So how do we revise our mental game plan to better suit us? There are a few misconceptions. When people start writing up their mental game plan they think that there is only going to be one plan that works for everybody, and that just isn’t the case. Coaches might tell you to visualize your routine beforehand, but what if you aren’t a visual learner? What if you haven’t been taught how to visualize? You have to create your mental game plan with mental skills that you know and that work for you.

Is it just superstitions?

Another misconception is that a mental game plan is just a big list of superstitions. Things like you have to put your right sock on first, then your left. Or if you don’t eat a certain breakfast you won’t hit any of your skills. But there is definitely a difference between a pre-competition mental game plan and superstitions. The main difference is that superstitions control you. Superstitions are all rooted in anxiety. It’s common for athletes who have anxiety or who aren’t as confident, to try to gain control through these superstitions.

The problem with that is if you forget one little part of the superstition routine you are doomed. The way your mental game plan works is that they are based on your own experience, you know exactly what you need to do to get yourself in the right state of mind to perform well. You know the energy level you need to be at, and it doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect, you just have to be in the right mood in the right state of mind.

What resources can help me build my mental game plan?

Perform Happy and Complete Performance Coaching has a bunch of resources for you and other athletes. We have a ton of challenges. We have 8 and the last one in the series is to help you create a mental game plan. The reason it is the last of the challenges is that you spend the previous weeks and challenges gaining all of the mental skills you will need to create a solid mental game plan. You work on imagery, you learn how to talk to yourself in a positive way, you learn how to relate to your coaches and your team, you learn how to get into the moment and exactly what works for you.

It’s not all about the specifics, of course, you have your dream pre-performance scenario, but it’s about being flexible. That way every single thing doesn’t have to be perfect for you to be successful. You’ve set yourself up to be as successful as possible, and you are going to be able to trust that you are going to be okay.

Does a mental game plan only work for my time in sports?

This actually goes so far beyond sports. I want to give a quick example of this. My pre-test routine from college worked really well for me and my learning style. It changed and adapted through my years of college. By the time I graduated I had a rock-solid game plan to prepare for a test and know that I was going to ACE it. It is the same thing for a pre-competition mental game plan. That is what I want for you, I want you to have the perfect plan to set you up for success and to make you feel like you are set up to succeed.

The week before

You should start your pre-competition mental game plan the week before your meet. Usually, the week of is when your adrenaline starts to ramp up and you become much more aware that something is coming up.


First thing, I’d write down everything I needed to know before taking the test. I would take the study guide and recreate that with all of the big stuff I needed to remember. Now I’d make a few copies of those things and post them all over my space so that I was seeing them all the time. For athletes, you could write things that remind you that you are hitting your skills in practice, you are nailing your routines.


Then I found a way to remind myself with audio. I would create a recording of all of those same things on my lists. Then I would listen to all of the information I needed to know to be successful. I listened to that while I did chores, while I rode in the car, and while I was waiting for the test to begin. For you, this might be watching your performing successfully, or listening to audio choreography.

Putting it all together

Once I was listening to it and looking at it all the time and I felt like I was ready, then it comes down to trust. I had to trust that I had studied hard, that I spent all week preparing for this moment. Now I had to make sure that the night before I got enough sleep, and the day of I needed to eat a good breakfast that had some fat in it, like avocado, because fat is brain food. If your brain is fed and ready your body will be too. At that point, I had fueled myself, mind and body, properly. These steps are just as important, if not more important for athletes. your body and mind need to be right before competing.

Now what? What do I do the day of?

The day of the test was my last little cram session. I was listening to my recording on my way to the test. While sitting at my desk I did one last look over my notes and when the time came I’d put them to the side. While waiting for the test and even during the test, I was taking deep breaths, feeling my feet, and being present in that moment. The warm-up might look a little different for each athlete. For some, it might be chatting with a friend to take your mind off of performing entirely. Maybe it is visualizing your routine. You just have to find what works best for you. Part of your pre-performance routine might be positive self-talk and keeping to yourself.

I got straight A’s all through college because of that routine I had been developing for years. You’ve been developing your plan, your mental game plan.

When do you execute your plan?

Now you have an idea of what you do the week of, the night before, and the morning of. This is what you do as you are preparing for events or critical moments, you have an idea of exactly what works for you. This isn’t made up, it isn’t superstition. Through training you have looked back, we have guided you to reflect on the experiences you have had, the best and the worst, so that you know what to include and exclude in your pre-performance mental game plan.

Then you practice that mental game plan. You practice it and you revise it. Not just at competitions, you practice it at practice and you repeat it until it becomes routine. It will become automatic and you do that before practice and competitions, and it’s just a thing that you do. Your brain will start to think ” oh okay we did that routine and we are ready for a good day, or whatever you are about to do.” It becomes a routine you can trust. It takes away so much of that anxiety you were feeling before having a routine.

Contact us for help with your mental game plan

If you or an athlete you know may benefit from help putting together a mental game plan reach out to us here at Perform Happy. We have many options for coaching and learning and we would love to help your athlete. We are always happy to answer any questions you might have!

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.