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Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Gymnast Question: How do I stay focused at meets?

Great question, right?!

Humans have about 50 thoughts per minute. That's about 10,000 thoughts per meet.

Some of those 10,000 thoughts are useful. Some aren't. So how does an athlete focus on the thoughts that steer her toward desirable results? And how does she avoid thoughts that distract and disrupt her performance?

Eight tips for Staying Focused During a Gymnastics Meet:

The following steps build upon each other and they work independently as well. Pick a few to practice. Discover which ones work best for you!

Psst . . . Tools #5-#8 are my favorite!

(1) Cloud Watching

This first tool is not so much a 'during-meet' tool as it is a useful pre-meet ritual.

Picture you're on a grassy hill looking up at the blue sky. You notice clouds. Some are white and fluffy, others thin and sparse. A few clouds are gray. Some look like animals. Others remind you of broccoli.

You notice the clouds, but you have no judgment about them. They just are. They remind you of things. And then, they slowly drift out of view and no longer hold space in your mind. They're forgotten.

Thoughts are a lot like clouds. They appear. Some dark. Some light. Some, offering that your dog is the cutest, and others remind you that broccoli is worth eating.

And then other thoughts, sound something like this,

"That girl is so good! She's definitely going to beat me."

"What if I mess up?"

"I can't believe I fell! I just ruined my all-around. This is the worst. Why did I fall? I shouldn't have fallen!"

Unlike clouds, the troubling thing about thoughts is that we mistake them for truth. We believe that because we had a thought it deserves attention.

The funny thing about this is that thoughts are no more real than a cloud is actually a bunny rabbit. With practice, we can notice thoughts and then let them go just like we do clouds.

Practicing 'thought-watching' at home or during workouts makes it easier to be still with thoughts during a meet. The trick is noticing a thought and then letting it float away like a cloud. Notice. Float. Move on.

Try deep breathes and using this key phrase, "Hmmm . . . that's an interesting thought I just had." And then leave it at that. Let it go.

(2) Grounding

Now that your thoughts feel a little less urgent, it's time to get intentional with the thoughts you WANT to give attention to.

An easy first step is 'grounding'. This mindfulness practice connects you with the present. One way to do this is counting backward from 5.

What are FIVE things you see around you? No judgment, just notice. Maybe you see the color orange or a chalky smudge on a mat. A hair clip or a kid eating nachos.

What are FOUR things you feel? It could be the sequins on your leotard, the cold cement beneath your toes, the tight braid in your hair, etc.

What are THREE things you hear? Music? Talking? Your own deep breaths?

What are TWO things you smell? This one is fun! Judge's perfume? Sweaty armpits? Sanitizer?

What is ONE thing you taste? What does your mouth taste like? Toothpaste? Bagels? Cough drop?

(3) Key Words

Once you're grounded in the present, it's easier to be intentional with the near future. Choose thoughts that focus on the experience that awaits you in the next few minutes.

It's helpful to have set keywords for each event and skill. (Read next week's post as I explain this concept in detail). Keywords focus thoughts on the actions you want to experience.

Examples: Run fast, Tight arms, Up-Turn-Squeeze, Powerhouse, Finger Press, etc. (see next post to explore the 'how-to's of keywords)

(4) Affirmations

Another way to direct your thoughts toward desired results is with positive affirmations. Affirmations should generate useful emotions that propel you toward your desired actions and experience.

Examples: I am confident. I am strong. I've got this. This is going to be fun. I'm a warrior. I'm ready to rock this floor routine.

When you notice your mind wandering. Bring it back to focus with a keyword or Affirmation!

(5) Redirects

The athletes who master the art of redirects are the ones who maintain the most control over their gymnastics experience. The ability to respond to your default thought with a more serving, intentional thought is THE SKILL that changes everything.

Here is an example using a default thought metnioned above,

Default: "That girl is so good! She's definitely going to beat me."

Redirect: "Yep. That girl IS really good. I'm seriously inspired. Now I want to get out there and do MY best too. Best way to do that? (Insert keywords and affirmations). "

While redirects are one of the most powerful skills when it comes to focusing at meets, it can also be one of the most challenging to master.

Here are three opportunities to master the skill of redirects.

(6) Answering 'What-Ifs'

Another common distracting thought in addition to comparison is "What-If".

My favorite tool for dealing with the "What-Ifs" is by answering it!

Default: "What if I fall on beam?"

Answer: "Then I fall. I get a lower score. Maybe I don't qualify for the next meet AND I survive. I have food, family, teammates, and a house to go home to. I show up to practice and keep training, learning, and getting better. Bring on the fall. I can handle it."

Sounds a bit silly? Try it. It just might be your ticket to a calm, collected, focused performance.

(7) Neutralizing Mistakes

A third extremely distracting thought or series of thoughts is/are thoughts that ruminate on past mistakes. Let's jump in with a few examples:

Example One: Neutralize

Default: "I can't believe I fell! I just ruined my all-around. This is the worst. Why did I fall? I shouldn't have fallen!"

Intentional: "Your feet were on a 4" wide piece of suede-covered aluminum. Then your feet were on a 4" blue squishy mat. Then you climbed up and put your feet back on tan-suede. Where are you going to put your feet next?"

Example Two: Appreciate

Default: "I can't believe I fell! I just ruined my all-around. This is the worst. Why did I fall? I shouldn't have fallen!"

Intentional: "That was disappointing and I'm so glad I just had that experience! I know what I want to focus on at gym this week. This is going to make my series so much better. I'm excited to see what I'll learn on my next event."

(8) Whole Picture Visualizing

The last skill I want to leave you with is whole picture visualizing.

Once you've learned how to get intentional with your thoughts, it extremely useful to practice them. By visualizing not just your desired actions, but the thoughts that you want to accompany you, you increase the likelihood of your default thoughts serving you. (Stay tuned for more details on whole pictures visualizing).

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