Before I dive into this topic, let me first say that I offer this information as a former elite gymnast, coach of multiple sports (Gymnastics, Trampoline & Tumbling, Track & Field, Soccer, and Basketball), a fan of almost all sports, and as a lifelong student of learning & striving for athletic as well as coaching excellence.  None of what I relate here is original to me.  I have learned it and lived it not only through my own experience but also from my coaches and many other people and sources. 

The 1st secret is to PRACTICE WELL.  I know this is kind of a no brainer, but it needs to be included first.  Being a good competitor isn’t only about being physically prepared. Everybody knows you have to prepare physically to compete well.  But, did you know that physical preparation by itself is only part of competing well?  In fact, experts who study sports performance say that “mental skills” can account for 50-90% of performance.  So, this leads to the 2nd secret.

The 2nd secret is to TRAIN YOUR MIND.  Mental training helps you:

  1. feel focused but relaxed
  2. handle pressure
  3. deal with unexpected challenges
  4. deal with performance successes as well as set-backs

My main purpose for sharing this information is not to focus on the physical preparation needed to compete well, but instead to zero in on … the “secrets” of how to train your mind.

Before we talk about training your mind, I first want to offer some tips about emotionally healthy ways to think about competition.

  1. Enjoy competition.  Don’t get all worked up about it.  Have FUN performing & competing. It’s normal to feel a bit nervous or excited beforehand.  That’s called adrenaline!  It’s a good thing.  You can learn to take advantage of its benefits!
  2. Take the focus off of yourself.  Offer yourself and your efforts to God out of love and gratitude to Him.  Encourage & cheer for your teammates.
  3. Remember that no matter how you perform, you are loved … by your parents & family, by your coaches and by God.  So, be at peace and give it your best effort.  Don’t be anxious.  “Winning” or “Losing” doesn’t determine who you are as a person.  Be joyful & happy that you get the opportunity to play and compete, even if you know you could have done better.


These are some of the mental training skills I used when I was an athlete.  When I started coaching, my athletes who took these ideas to heart, practicing and learning them, benefitted from them.

  1. Breathe – to relax and feel calm, confident & peaceful.
  2. Rehearse – in your mind.  Use your imagination to see yourself performing the way you want to.
  3. Get in the zone – the right frame of mind to perform with confidence & happiness

Breathing for relaxation

  • Count to 4 while slowly & steadily breathing in; Pause & then count to 4 while slowly breathing out.  Repeat 4 to 5 times consecutively.
  • Feel any tension that you feel, leave your body as you exhale, all the way out through your fingers and toes.

Rehearse mentally (Visualization)

  • Close your eyes & think through doing your routine or performance well.  As you use your imagination to do this, say silently to yourself the short, positive one or two-word “action cues” at certain points in your routine or performance that help you to do it the way you want to do it.
  • During competition week, for a few nights in a row before the competition, mentally rehearse your routines or performances in your imagination before going to sleep.
  • In competition, do this mental rehearsal before it’s your turn.  Mental rehearsal at this point counts as much as physical rehearsal

Get In the Zone

  • Say a short prayer with your coaches or parents before the competition and ask God to help you perform with confidence and calmness.  Don’t pray to win; pray to do your best, to compete well and with good sportsmanship.
  • Memorize a favorite short prayer (Jesus I trust in you), Bible verse (Phil 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me) or positive saying (Focused and Relaxed) that you can repeat to yourself to help you feel motivated, confident & unafraid.
  • Remember to offer your efforts to God out of love and thanksgiving to Him.  Take the focus off yourself, direct it to Him & be encouraging to your teammates.

What you are learning here is not just for your sport.  It WILL help you to perform better and with confidence in competition.  BUT, it will also help you in LIFE … in your future someday when you are no longer doing your sport.  Mental training takes practice just like physical practice so, stick with it.  You’ll be glad you did.

by Scott Wright, Co-owner & President of Sonshine Academy, Inc. in Conway, Arkansas.

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