Sometimes when performance struggles, it is not a result of poor conditioning, lack of coaching, or a lack of technical or physical skills, it is because of factors such as being nervous, lack of focus, concentration, or confidence, or even simply being negative about a situation. We spend a lot of our time working on skills and our routines, but when do you take time to spend developing the mind of a successful athlete or even champion? Many great athletes credit being mentally tough and being mentally prepared as being a crucially important skill when helping them become and remain successful. A lot of times, athletes have been helped and coached on their physical skills and strategies but few have attempted to take the time to help athletes develop the mental side of the sport or activity. Coaches, parents, and teachers will “pull their hair out” over athletes who are so great in practice or classes and do things correctly generally most of the time and then “choke” on competition day or test days. No athlete should feel as if they are a “head case,” “crazy,” or are “doomed to fall or fail” because of this lacking of mental toughness for competing, being under tough situations, or added pressures. The mental toughness, skills, and habits simply need to be more trained, as with any of the physical skills of the sport.
Our muscles don’t function unless directed by the brain, so performance of skills must be approached as to “thinking with your muscles” to produce better performance. It’s after an athlete becomes aware of how mentally prepared they need to be to affect performance, the more ready they will be to learn skills and strategies to help control mental factors such as fear and anxiety.
To be successful at learning how to become mentally tough for better performance, strategies must be structured, consistent, and measurable. A few examples of training mental skills would be developing a system of having mental rehearsals for upcoming performances. Focusing and mentally picturing every motion and movement in a routine will help when you put the skills to work, physically doing it. Staying focused and letting go of everything else in your mind that usually distracts you is another important technique and habit to help keep focus to motivate you towards the main goal you’ve been trying to accomplish with your performance. Staying relaxed under pressure or having the “good nerves” backstage can help give you just the right amount of positive adrenaline to also help you physically hit your routine to the best of your ability. Staying positive and keeping a positive attitude will help directly influence the energy of a team, just as negativity can cloud that common purpose, goal, and mission your team has set.
Cheerleading, along with any other activity or sport, is a great training ground for life lessons and the same psychological techniques and principles can also help manage worries whether it be on an athletic field, a job interview, class presentations, or competing in front of a crowd. There are no specific changes in physical or skill level during a competition, or between two competitions that follow each other. Just as a cheerleader doesn’t lose a skill in a day or a week, what changes is the mental control or mindset. Athletes will blame the coach, parents, fans, or even the weather when things go wrong or if a performance goes badly, but it is the athlete’s mindset that ultimately controls the performance. The more you use your strategies, and appropriately, the better you will become, and the better you will always perform!