This is a CheerTheory Partner Post
About the author: Jen Graffice is an elite performance and mindset coach with a client base of more than 10,000 strong. She works with coaches, teams, and individual athletes across the globe and teaches them how to make the mindset shift and unlock their true potential. With her clients, she covers topics like team cohesiveness, performance anxiety, mental resilience, confidence, elite focus, mental blocks, mental imagery, and more. You can learn more about her and her company, Q Life, on her website www.jengraffice.com and her Instagram @jengraffice.qlife.
Mindset Matters: Top 10 Mindset Strategies to Prepare You for Competing at The Summit and The Cheerleading Worlds 2021
Competing on the big stage can be so exciting. After all, it is what you have worked for your entire season. The long hours, extra practices, conditioning, missing out on social/school events all with one goal in mind; to compete on the World’s biggest stages in Orlando, Florida. All the hard work and sacrifice got you here. Now begins the exciting countdown – time for the final showcases, team gifts, hair, spray tans and packing to join the thousands of competitors.
Along with all the excitement can also come the fear, extra pressure, and anxiety that comes with performing at the highest level. As a coach and athlete, learning how to handle these emotions can make all the difference in prelims, semi-finals, and finals. Being physically ready is key. And now, the mental component becomes the lifeline to bring it all together.
Below, Jen Graffice shares her top 10 mindset strategies to help you compete at your full potential. While some may seem basic, they all compound to create the perfect environment for our bodies and brains to compete at peak performance.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Yep, I told you they may sound basic. But sleep is vital! With all the excitement, it’s normal to want to stay up late prepping and hanging out with friends at the hotel. Keep in mind that sleep is required for cognitive processing, meaning without enough sleep, your focus and ability to adapt quickly decreases. Sleep also heals and rejuvenates our bodies from the cellular level. Athletes need eight to nine hours each night and even more when prepping for large multiple-day events.
2. Be Mindful of Your Nutrition
When we think about our bodies as an instrument for peak performance, it helps us make better food choices. What we put in is what we get out! It’s that simple. We need to fuel our bodies with all the vitamins and minerals necessary for peak function. When we load up on caffeine and sugar, it may give us a boost of energy. However, if not timed correctly, that blood sugar crash can happen at the worst possible time and decrease our performance ability. For short bursts of energy, we don’t need to carb load, a good combo of healthy carbs and protein with each meal and snack will ensure stable blood sugar levels so we don’t have energy crashes caused by food. One example of a pre-competition breakfast could be oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg or scrambled eggs and a bagel. Healthy snacks could be nuts, string cheese, fruit, veggies and hummus, or a basic deli sandwich.
3. Set an Intention for Your Day
Every morning, spend a couple of minutes to make intentions for your day and imagine how you would like your day to go. Think about all you have coming up and then walk through the day. Talk out loud about what you want the day to look like. Be as specific as you can in your thoughts. For example: “Today, I will be calm and focused. I will be ready to hit the stage and perform my best. I will land all my tumbling and encourage my teammates for our ultimate success!”
4. Champion Team Cohesiveness
End-of-season events are a great time for bonding with your team. If your team understands the power of team cohesiveness, it can set you apart from the rest. The more you stay connected, the more collectively focused you will be! I call this “staying in your bubble.” Some of the top-performing teams literally do everything together to enhance their connectivity. Cohesiveness creates a form of energy, a topic I will explain further in number six.
5. Visualize Success
Many athletes are familiar with visualizing their routine and the skills they need to perform. Expand on it and visualize not only what you need to do, but also how you want to feel in that moment. When you visualize, your brain believes you have physically done the skill. That’s right, every time you use mental imagery, it is the same as physically doing it. It is a powerful tool that you can use anywhere and adding emotions to it strengthens even greater the mind-body connection.
6. Create Positive Energy
We all have experienced both extreme negative energy and amazing positive vibes, right? Sometimes you have practices where nothing is going right – blaming each other, the coach is furious and conditioning you to death. And then there are the seamless moments where everything feels in sync, you’re having fun and hitting flawless routines. Well, that energy is real, and we can all help shift the energy if necessary. It is up to us as coaches and athletes to make a conscious choice of what kind of energy we want to bring to each day. We have the power to hold on to a rough pre-warm-up and fuel that fear-based energy. Or we can simply accept it for what it is, stay positive, and realize that a past moment does not have to define us or our future performance.
7. Manage Performance Anxiety
Performance anxiety filters its way in from time to time, especially at major competitions. How we channel that energy is vital! It’s normal and natural to get nervous before we compete. Learning how to use these nerves and harness them into a focused source of energy is significant. Here are a couple of tips to harness that ball of anxious energy:
- Place your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth back on the soft part of your palette. This motion activates a different part of your brain and helps center you.
- Box breathing. Take deep breaths and get more oxygen into your lungs. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold again for 4 seconds. Repeat this pattern 3-4 times. Box breathing also helps ground and calm you.
- Gratitude. This one sounds odd but think about the things that you are grateful for. When we are in a space of gratitude, we cannot simultaneously be in a space of fear and anxiousness. Gratitude helps us see the bigger picture – all of those people and opportunities that made it possible for us to do the sport we love.
8. Build Mental Resilience
What happens if someone gets sick, forgets their uniform bag at the airport, or an alternate needs to step in for day two? These are all things that may have happened and could happen in the future. How we handle these obstacles can determine our path forward. While we don’t want to overly worry or endlessly focus on the “what ifs”, it is healthy to prepare for the unexpected. If something does happen, we can roll with it, rather than freaking out and preventing us from succeeding. The top leaders, coaches, and athletes are prepared to shift at any moment and maintain mental resilience for ultimate success.
9. Transition From Day One to Day Two
Our mindset about any given situation is vital to how we can function at the highest level. It doesn’t matter if you had three tumble busts and a pyramid fall or if you hit a perfect zero routine. Both of these situations can bring their own sense of fear, apprehension, and overwhelm. The first one is the fear of not doing your best on day one and how you can recover. The other is being on top and the desire not to crack under pressure. Both of these situations are about how we reframe our minds for what lies ahead. We must persevere regardless. And our attitude about each of these situations determines our altitude!
10. Embrace the Moment and Have Fun
Take the time to remember why you do what you do! This is a time to let everything go. There is nothing else you can do other than Go out there and let the training and hard work speak for themselves! And remember to take some time to reflect on how far you have come. These are moments you won’t get back. Find the joy in the journey and make special memories during these last few days with your teams! Trust in your training and believe that the BEST is yet to come!
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