As dance and cheer coaches, competition day presents unique challenges. We spend countless hours, days, weeks, and months preparing for 2 – 2:30 minutes on the floor. That’s all we get. There is no best of 7, next quarter, or 2nd half for us to earn redemption. When the music starts, that’s it. It’s our only shot and the pressure to perform our best can be immense. We can’t just coach the skills, we have to teach our dancers to have the right competitive mindset.
How do you coach for the best competitive mindset?
As coaches, we know how to teach the skills of our sport. We know how to clean up a routine, improve their tumbling skills, or overcome a mental block to achieve a new hip-hop trick. What we don’t always understand is how to help them prepare their competitive mindset. If you never talk about the mental side of competition, you’re allowing for the unexpected to pull your athlete’s focus with the potential for catastrophic results. For example, what are your dancers or cheerleaders thinking as they walk towards the floor at the state championship?
Think about it: What are all the things your athletes might be thinking about that day?
1) I can’t believe my teammate is goofing off and not focused right now, get it together!
2) This uniform doesn’t fit me very well, I hate the way I feel in it
3) I wonder what (insert rival/inspiration team) is doing today and if they’ll hit
4) Why do we have to go first!?
5) My hip is bothering me but I have to push through and not say anything
6) I want this soooo bad…
The list goes on and on, but I want you to notice something about all those statements before I move on. They are all things you CAN’T CONTROL. At least not in the moment, right here, right now. You can’t control other people and you can’t control the order of competition. What another team is going to do or what a judge is going to think is out of your control. You can’t control how important the event is. You can’t change the training or preparation you’ve done leading up to today. All those thoughts are misleading your focus. And the misdirected focus has serious consequences on how you perform.
This is what I would say to my dancers…
My #1 piece of advice to skyrocket your team’s competitive mindset:
I want you to focus on the things you can control today: your mindset and your body. Concentrate on those things, staying present in the moment. Don’t let other things drift in and pull your focus away from what matters at the moment. CONTROL THE CONTROLLABELS. You only have a limited amount of mental resources for the day, so why spend it focused on things beyond your control? If you spend all day stressing about what another team is doing, you’re wasting precious energy on the wrong thing! Instead, I encourage you to only think about what you can control. You CAN control how you warm-up. A dancer CAN control what you eat and drink that day. Cheerleaders CAN control your positive attitude. Everyone CAN control how they respond to other’s behavior and the events of the day.
This takes practice! It’s not something you talk about that morning and expect it to take hold for your cheerleaders. CONTROL THE CONTROLLABES is just as applicable in practice and should be an EVERY DAY MANTRA! When you are teaching a new routine, for example, help the dancers focus on the present 8 count they are trying to get. Not how fast the girl next to them picks it up, or if they look silly while they learn. Help them to focus on their positive attitude and their physical movements.
Each dancer sets his or her own positive mindset daily, and it’s your job to teach them how to hold on to it. Talk to your team about focusing in on things they can control in every aspect of their training. When you catch them worrying about something outside of their control, remind them that they can’t change it. If this becomes part of your everyday routine, it will be a lot easier to stay focused during those emotion-driven competition days.
Coach, this goes for you too.
Your competitive mindset is just as important as the teams’ mindset!
You also can’t control what the judges think, the order of competition, or the condition of the floor. You can control how you handle what’s thrown your way. How you react to the surprises and unexpected adventures all day. You can control what you say to your team. Make sure you focus on the things you can control such as your own positive attitude and words. Remember: what you say to your athletes becomes their inner voice.
Make sure you say things that are not just positive, but genuine, in the moment, and something you want them focused in on. Remind them that the only thing you have control over is your own skill. You want your dancers to focus in on the cues you’ve given them to remember during the routine. Nothing else should get in their head besides living in the moment.
Ever had the frustrating thought,
“They did so much better in practice! Why can’t they do the same thing at competition!?”
The simple answer is it’s their mindset and focus. The ultimate goal is to be present in the moment on the floor. Present in every count and not stuck behind or looking ahead. In the moment of every single movement and skill. That’s what will lead to the peak performance you all want. That can only happen if you teach them to