So what kind of a head do you have on your shoulders? Are you competing at the level that you’re capable of? Or do you regularly perform better in practice than you do in important competitions? Do fears and self-doubts paralyze you and prevent you from performing to your potential?
If some of these questions bother you, then you probably already know how critically important the mental part of your sport is. If you want to take your performance to the next level, then you have to be willing to take your training far beyond where most athletes stop. Most serious athletes in this sport religiously work on the physical part of the sport. They’ll work on their strength, fitness and rhythm. They’ll work on the proper technique. Is this stuff important? You betcha! You can’t become successful without “paying your physical dues” in this way. Hard work is definitely one of the main keys to your success. Without it, you’ll quickly fall behind.
Unfortunately, this is where most athletes stop. When they go into their competitions or important try-outs, they hope they’ll perform well, they hope that they’ll have their “A” game with them today, they hope that they’ll win. You would never leave your strength, conditioning or technique to chance. So why would you leave the most important part of your cheer performance, the mental part to chance?
Think about this: Getting good as an athlete in practice is 95% physical and 5% mental. Translation: You have to work hard on your conditioning and “physical game” to make it happen. However, once you get ready to perform and it counts, the percentages flip flop. Being successful is 95% mental and 5% physical. You have the conditioning, technique and the proper strategy, now you have to make sure that you stay calm under pressure and keep yourself focused on the right things. For example, your concentration needs to stay in the moment, on responding immediately to the skill you're doing and being ready to adjust at a moment’s notice. If you let your mind jump ahead to the future, (i.e. thinking about winning or messing up) or slip back to the past (i.e. a previous mistake or fall), then you’ll end up getting yourself too uptight and distracted to perform to your potential. This means that you have to be able to rebound quickly from your mistakes and not carry them into the next moment or performance.
You have to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence to focus on yourself and not your opponents when you’re under pressure. You have to be able to handle last minute negativity and self-doubts. You have to be able to master your fears.
With a little work, these mental skills as well as a few important others can be systematically trained to the point where you develop the reputation as a mentally tough competitor.
As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg has worked with gymnasts and cheerleaders at all levels around the United States from elite all the way down. Dr. G presents at gymnastics clubs around the US. His articles on mental toughness and peak performance have appeared in International Gymnast and Technique. Dr. G is the author of the revolutionary new book, "This Is Your Brain On Sports: Beating Blocks, Slumps and Performance Anxiety For Good!", "Sports Slump Busting", "Sticking It" and his newest program, Gymnastics With The Competitive Edge, that directly addresses the fears and blocks experienced by many Cheer athletes.