Dear Coach Wayne,
I have been an all-star cheerleader for about 6 years now. I compete in individuals on and off. I am now in a large junior team competing in individuals is a big thing. My coach has asked me to compete as an individual for every competition where it is possibly told her I would. Not to come to think that I am scared of tumbling in front of a large crowd. My routine for it is awesome. I am a great tumbler but I get scared when in front of 1,000's of people.
My tumbling skills are as follows: back handsprings, standing tucks, tucks, half twists, layouts, and side summies. As you can tell I have had a lot of practice over the years. I can just about place those skills in any combination I want too. I know competing by myself would be great and I have an excellent chance to do good. If you have any tips on how to keep my focused when tumbling in front of a large crowd please let me know. Thank you for your time on my problems. I hope to hear from you soon.
There's no doubt about it... larger audiences will affect how you perform your routines... but the trick is to minimize that effect as much as possible. You'll do that during your practices.
My coach always emphasized an important lesson about "events" and "competitions"... He said that if you trained properly leading up to competitions... the actual DAY of the event ought to be the 'easiest' day you've had in a month. What he was implying is that a great gymnast will put all the hard work in WELL in advance of any day when there's a significant audience viewing it.
The idea is to 'perfect' the skills during practice (and skill combinations) to SUCH a high level of accuracy that they are 'routine'. Your 'routine' must be rehearsed with enough frequency that they are almost 'mundane.' Then during a 'show' or competition... it's no-big-deal... just do your routine, again.
For example... if you were asked to demonstrate a cartwheel in front of any sized crowd, I suspect you'd not feel the same level of stress as you are feeling over the advanced skills... If that's true, it's because you have greater confidence in the reliability of the cartwheel than the advanced skills. The solution, then, is to actually practice the advanced routine VERY VERY frequently...before the actual day of the competition. (think of doing the ENTIRE routine 6 times EACH day... six days of the week... every week.. until the day of the competition. Make the ENTIRE routine EXTREMELY reliable.
Now, to take it ONE step further...
When you are practicing at home in your gym... you must practice "as if" a thousand people are watching you.
as VIVIDLY as possible, pretend that you are Actually at the competition...and a thousand people are watching you... from beginning to end... during EVERY single practice. Do that IN your gym EVERY day. EVERY attempt at EVERY skill.
Print up this E-mail
Carry it with you to practice
JUST before you walk ONTO the floor to STRETCH OUT. Glance at the subject of this E-mail & let it REMIND you to practice EVERY routine AS IF a thousand people are watching you RIGHT NOW.
Now, "pretend" that you are 'on-camera... on stage... and in the competition" look around the gym... and imagine seeing rows upon rows of people watching you... waiting on you. See them eating hot-dogs and talking to each other... and doing what crowds of people normally do.
& then go about your warm-up... practice... and take your turn in the competition with the cameras flashing and the crowds viewing you. IMAGINE it as VIVIDLY as possible.
And play games with yourself... to help yourself make the 'pretended competition' more realistic. Hear them call your name or number. Hear your friends cheer you on... and see the judges... listen to the music...
even pretend that there are mistakes in the music... and how you'd start over... calm and cool and polished.& that you'd actually do BETTER the next time... relaxed... and you'd win!
or imagine the lights unexpectedly going out on the stage & how you'd recover... & start over ... & how everyone would be SO AMAZED at your recovery... and see the judges giving you the winning score after your routine!
When you begin your routine... SEE all the THOUSANDS of people in the audience... and then ignore them... and turn your concentration to the specific skills, passes, moves and combinations ahead of you. Do what you are THERE to do... nothing else matters does it.
And even in the middle of routines... pretend that balloons pop... and kids scream... and other music starts...and no matter WHAT happens around you... YOU just keep your cool... keep your focus... and do what you are there to do... perform a magnificent routine that results in your being able to WIN THAT COMPETITION.
From the moment you walk into the floor... you ought to KNOW that YOU are going to take first prize.. and ALL those people are going to get to WITNESS you performing an amazingly well rehearsed... winning routine.
(the judges will really be there to decide who gets second and third place trophies... because you already know who'll get first place.. YOU)
demonstrate such excellence EVERY SINGLE time.. that YOU ALWAYS feel confident that you are scoring the highest scores possible.
HOWEVER... most people don't practice that way... they practice casually... sloppily... as if no-one is watching... not even themselves... they perform without careful concern for EACH and EVERY part of EACH element...
and then they practice so infrequently, (especially the big stuff) that they can't HELP but feel stressed out when they are actually REQUIRED to completely perform in competition.
Think about it... They PRACTICE being BAD... :-(
Doesn't it make sense to use your PRACTICE time to REHEARSE winning elements?
So DO IT!
A wise performer will practice EVERY stretch... EVERY handstand... EVERY handspring... as if s/he is being judged forever on that ONE... and she'll do EVERYTHING in her power to make it the BEST POSSIBLE... worthy of being praised by a thousand people.. (cheering in the stands).
That wise performer will not feel intimidated when she is actually FACE to FACE with those crowds... because she is MOST comfortable there...
THAT environment is COMPLETELY normal and natural... BECAUSE she's ALWAYS practicing in front of them... (albeit in her imagination)
The only difference is... the imagined audience is not usually as fun as the real audience.
Try this for a few weeks... it's tough (mental discipline) the first 10 times or so, but after a while, you'll get the hang of it.
Stay in touch, please.
PS: Always IMAGINE winning!
& practice EACH element/move/skill with such precision, beauty, and accuracy that it's EASY for you to imagine being worthy of winning.
... during EACH routine...
receiving the top award for your competition...
what does it feel like?
what does it sound like?
how do they call your name?
what's it like when all the eyes are upon you...
receiving the top award...
feel it in your hand...
feel the heat of the lights...
the roar of the crowd...
and the JOY of celebrating your success
(and make sure you give thanks to God.)
Coach Wayne was the Head Coach for the Savannah College of Art and Design Cheerleading team and Executive Coach of Olympic Gymnast Zuzana Sekerova. His articles, videos, and books have been used by students and instructors worldwide since 1991. Coach Wayne is available for tumbling instructor certification training. For booking information, coaches/owners should text or call 912.238.1747.