I often get asked the question “How do I stay calm under pressure, especially when competing?” This is a question I have often asked myself as I never thought that I would be someone to thrive under such a pressured circumstance, especially as I have always hated being centre of attention and hated the thought that everyone may be watching me.
With this in mind I put my thinking cap on and brainstormed what goes through my mind and how do I manage my thoughts and feelings on a competition day. Competitions can range from a local competition, an Open workout or Regionals. When thinking about it there seemed to me to be three key areas to consider: my mind-set, my self-awareness and my internal focus.
For me mind-set is the most important which is why I have written about it first. The mind-set you walk into a competition with will determine how well you perform that day. If you walk in thinking that the workouts are hard, or I am feeling tired, or there are so many good people here, in my opinion you have started the day with a defeatist attitude and you have lost before you have even begun. On the flip side, if you walk in thinking that today is going to be great fun, I can learn loads from this, how lucky I am to be competing against some of the best athletes, then you already have a positive attitude and will enjoy the experience more and most likely preform better.
Winning or losing does not always matter, sometimes you need to go to a competition to take part, learn and enjoy the experience so that next time you go back you know how to attack a competition with experience. Every competitor was once an amateur and we all had our first competition.
Self-awareness is quite a big topic but for me the part that I like to focus on most is how well you know yourself and how good you are at what you do. Firstly, most of the time the competitions we attend include qualifiers, so straight away you should have confidence in your ability, as you have earned the right to be there to preform. Secondly, you must have faith and confidence knowing that you have prepared for that competition to the best of your ability and there was nothing else you could have done apart from what happens on the day, which is usually out of your control to a certain extent. Thirdly, you must trust your body to complete the exercises, as it would on any other day.
This for me brings me onto the next part, internal focus. Are you able to shut down your brain when necessary to save precious energy?
When I think about internal focus I like to think about whether you are able to shift your mind-set and take your brain to another place or put it in shut-down mode. When you take your mind away from the task at hand you are able to zone out and ignore the people around you who are quite possibly competing against you. You send your head to space, so to speak, and use your muscle memory to help you through the movements.
Putting your mind into shut-down mode is the best way to save mental energy and use it to help you push harder during your workout. When your mind goes into shut-down mode it means that you are thinking about nothing else but the task in hand. It is at this point that you may breakdown the workout into reps, sets or even focus on your split-times. You may even be listening to someone counting for you. Saving as much energy from over thinking is essential as mentioned before; that 2% extra energy could be put into your workout and could turn out being 5 extra reps.
On a competition day I try to remember always to have fun and to enjoy the experience first and foremost. Granted, this may not happen on your first competition and I will admit this maybe didn’t happen during my first competition but as I have become a more seasoned athlete, competing multiple times per year, I have learnt to channel my thoughts and feelings into being excited and give me additional energy to compete rather than using up all my energy panicking or worrying about what may happen. This I believe will be the same for you.
The best tips I was ever given were:
Control the controllable and forget the rest.
Nerves represent excitement and should never be seen as a negative feeling – this one has helped me massively as I can now channel my ‘negative’ energy from being nervous into positive energy helping me to preform better.