Cheerleading competitions are high stakes, high pressure events. Competitions – especially Nationals – are exciting, exhilarating, and for some of you – terrifying! Who can deny the thrill of performing in front of hundreds or thousands of screaming fans?
Who would want to miss the opportunity to show the world the fruits of your months of hard work? The skills and hard work in your routine weren’t just given to you like free stuff on Gumtree or a present when it’s not your birthday. And it has been hard work – creating your routine, revising it, and practicing it over and over again until you’ve nailed it!
But rehearsing the routine repeatedly is only part of being a winner. What is equally if not more important is the mental game of preparation for cheerleading competitions. As I mentioned before, most pro athletes and virtually all Olympic athletes work with sports psychologists, so why not cheerleaders?
Winning is the science of being totally prepared and being mentally prepared is essential.
So what do I mean by mental preparation? Mental preparation refers to learning how to control your body and control your thinking. It means training your body and your mind to do what you want them to do at the time of your performance to ensure you perform at an optimal level.
You know, everything you do is dependent on your brain. You become what you think. Let me explain this a bit more so you have a good framework to help guide you as we proceed.
A competition, although wonderful and exciting, may be perceived as a threatening event. Why threatening? Well there is risk involved. There is uncertainty involved (you may not win, you may not nail your routine, someone may get dropped, and so forth). Plus you are being observed by judges and a huge crowd; your every move is going to be scrutinized.
In such situations you naturally get at least a bit anxious. Anxiety is your mind’s response to real or imagined danger.
In such situations certain physical things happen. The grand control center in your brain, the prefrontal cortex which is located just behind the forehead, alerts certain other structures in the brain to flood your prefrontal cortex with stress hormones and neurotransmitters that short circuit brain functioning. As a result, your attention narrows and your thinking becomes less flexible. Jumping to conclusions and acting precipitously or freezing are common at this point.
In other words fear and stress can make you stupid! No offense – it happens to all of us.
If an event is seen as positive or neutral, the prefrontal cortex will release a different chemical cocktail than if it is seen as negative. In other words, depending on how you perceive a given situation, you will either perform well or poorly. So if you perceive a competition as a positive event and if you have control over your thoughts, your brain will release a slew of chemicals that will help you perform better.
So, doesn’t it make sense to control your thoughts to make sure they are neutral or positive? You’ll hear a lot more about this is future posts, so come back for more!