PREPARING FOR REGIONALS AND NATIONALS
If you have ever been buried in a hotly contested Level 9-10 Regional Championships you will know what is meant by the meet from hell. No other competition (Ok possibly Olympic Trials) compares to the nerve racking, nail biting, stomach churning, drama that inherently attaches itself to this event. Everything is on the line! It is go hard, have a good day OR simply go home!
You can try down playing it by saying it is just another meet. That is until you get there and your nationals hopeful uncharacteristically falls on her first event or somehow eludes judges favor with a score “lower than she has had all year”. THEN even the most experienced athletes can come unglued. Hopefully the coach doesn’t follow suit.
Dealing with the pressure of a regional all or nothing event comes down more to how you handle training preparation than how you approach the competition itself. The bottom line is the better prepared athletes usually find themselves on the top of the podium reaching down to shake the hands of those that should have prepared with a little more focus, determination and desire.
A mistake often made however is the last minute rush to prepare. You are not going to shift into high gear coming down the home stretch and think that will be enough to fuel a nationals qualification. The groundwork has to be laid consistently throughout the year. Last minute surges generally run out of gas OR simply crash and burn. Perhaps too many analogies here? Ok … what I am trying to say is don’t start doing 2 a day trainings, and increase the number of routines, difficulty of routines etc at the last minute. The home stretch should be a time for tapering the intensity of training and fine tuning the details of the routines that have been proven consistent. It should not be the time where we start challenging the physical abilities of the athletes, and taking chances on new skills.
Part of the peaking process is to make sure your athletes are fresh, strong and confident for the championship event. Generally speaking the 3 week gap between regionals and nationals should provide little concern of “peaking too soon” provided you were not overly geared up for your “meaningless” state championship competitions. With this being said, time is well spent by concentrating on QUALITY rather than QUANTITY of routines during the final stretch of the season. We use 3 Vaults, 3 Bar, 6-10 Beam routines each day and a Floor routine every other day as our general numbers heading into regionals. This of course assumes the routines are of the quality that we expect out of each individual athlete. If they finish their assignments early GREAT! Extra time can be spent on dance details, flexibility or rest BUT we do not simply fill the time with busy work (this would defeat the purpose of encouraging quality).
Your conditioning program should also account for the goals at regionals/nationals. Since you should mostly be concerned about routines perfection at this point, you really do not want to be expending useful energy on supplemental training (intense conditioning). This would have some coaches lean towards shutting down the conditioning program all together and although this would seem logical (in that it would allow the most time and energy for routine development), it has been my experience that a body that is used to training hard will “fall asleep” if not stimulated. The art is finding the proper amount of stimulation.
Ok you have been stressing form and execution all year long. GREAT! So now how do you take the routines to the next level? How can you put the final touches on them? How do you develop that money in the bank consistency? Here are some ideas:
.1 Improvement Goal- Improvement is difficult unless you specifically know what it is you are trying to improve. Have your athletes write down a .1 improvement for each event (most every athlete has something). This could be increasing range of motion on a leap pass, sticking a dismount more consistently, hitting that final handstand, straightening a leg, or pointing a toe. Have them focus on making these corrections and once accomplished set another goal. Every day and every event rotation should have a goal to improve.
Allow more dance and flexibility time- If the idea of doing a smaller amount of quality routines works, you should finish each rotation early (how long does 3 quality vaults take?) This extra time can be used for working on dance presentation, lines, rhythm, and performance aspects. The artistry category is used extensively by judges in order to separate the great from the good routines at championship events. Time is well spent in this area.
Pressure Sets- In order to prepare for the pressure of a regional competition it is a good idea to put your athletes “under the gun” quite frequently in training situations. We use a certain number routine that is to be judged (sometimes watched by the entire gym). If they achieve a score that is acceptable the finish the assignment and are done, if not there are usually a couple routines added to the requirements.
“TEAM IN A ROW” is also a great pressure game. This is where the entire group has to hit their routine in succession in order to be finished. Talk about stress! If you miss, your teammates have to do another round of routines. (depending on the size and propensity for violence of your teammates, this may be more stress than regionals).
Add Incentives- I am not a big fan of using games and contests throughout the year as I feel motivation should be something that comes from within. However I have seen some great results by introducing a simply game or contest here and there. Kids love them and regardless of the reward (a sticker, a name on a dry erase board, a stick of gum, a team dinner or a $100) they generally step up their effort levels when a game is introduced. The art here is to make sure they do not loose focus on the objective. A periodic well placed game can work wonders in stimulating the morale and motivation at that end of a long season.
Stuck Dismounts- Meets are won and lost by less and .1. Sticking dismounts/vaults, and controlling landings on tumbling are often the determining factor for those that move on to nationals and those that do not. Provide some extra time for concentrated effort on perfecting the landings. This can also be a game (the first one to 100 sticks wins a leotard). They will stick like glue!
One Touch Warm Ups- The ability to compete with little to no warm up time is a very useful tool when it comes to dealing with the pressure of a championship competition. We try to instill the idea that “warm up time” is a bonus and is certainly not needed in order to perform well. We gradually reduced that amount of warm up time allotted in training until that athletes can easily handle doing full beam and bar routines COLD or with a ONE TOUCH warm up. IF they get used to this, competition warm up is a breeze.
Practice the meet format. Most regional meets are either Modified Capital Cup or Capital Cup format. It is a good idea to practice this in training. If you are headed to a Capital Cup format have them warm up on one piece of equipment and then compete a pressure set on another. Often times we will have athletes rotate beams every 1-2-3 routines as a version of preparing for a Capital Cup Situation.
Choreograph your warm up ritual- Coaches should be aware of the amount of time your athletes will have to warm up in any situation. If you know you have 8 kids in your rotation and 2 minutes per athlete, you can count on 16 minutes (provided all members block time) and plan accordingly. I would always err on the side of being ready in less turns. In any case a specific plan should be choreographed where the athlete knows and practices precisely how she will warm up. Again any extra time is BONUS so be prepared to be fully ready in as few turns as possible.
Choreograph and rehearse your 30 second touch. In a Capital Cup or Traditional format situation you will receive a 30 second touch. It is important to choreograph and practice this in training also so as to maximize the benefits.
Bolster their confidence. Again I am not a big fan to blowing smoke that is unwarranted (i.e. false praise) but there is a time when the constructive criticism should be replaced by coaching comments with the intention of bolstering the athletes confidence. Obviously this happens throughout the year, but NOW is a great time for coaches to bring out their best stuff.
* Encourage fan support. There is a reason why the home team in virtually every sport has an advantage and that is crowd/fan support. It is simply more comfortable and reassuring performing in front of a friendly crowd. I would encourage classy, yet boisterous support at every opportunity but especially at stress filled competitions like regionals. Invite the relatives, the school, the neighborhood or whomever, but pack the stands with your fans!
Upon arriving at the competition most of the coaches work is done. I say MOST but there are a few things to keep in mind to help foster the best results.
Have your athletes arrive in plenty of time. We generally suggest 15-30 minutes prior to check in. This allows for a brief acclimation time where the athletes can look over the venue, check out the lighting, find the bathrooms, locker rooms, get taped and mentally prepared. Nothing sets anxiety ablaze faster than being late for warm up.
Have your team arrive in unison. Perhaps they meet in the lobby or foyer prior to entering the competition venue. There is a something comfortable about having your entourage in tow when entering the war zone.
Have your coaching staff arrive in plenty of time also. Not that this is guaranteed to have any soothing impact on your athletes BUT if you make arriving early a priority for your athletes then it should be a priority for YOU the professional also. Besides you never know when your expertise may be needed prior to the start of warm ups (lost or forgotten music, a missing USAG number, a ripped leotard).
Cut your distractions. You are there to coach and give your athletes your undivided attention. If you are distracted (social conversations with every long lost friend, parents, phone calls etc) chances are your athletes will be also. I often get accused of being “anti-social” at competitions (some call it arrogance) when in actuality I am just focused on my athletes. If you want to socialize … meet me at the bar after … I’ll buy the first round of carrot juice.
Cut your athletes distractions. This of course mostly refers to parents well intended but misguided interference. Assure your parents that you can handle finding the bathroom for little Suzi (she did finally get her kip) and that if her number comes off you have ample experience in the art of pinning them on. Once the athletes hit the floor, the least of their concerns should be what mom and dad think.
Pay attention. I know this sounds rather infantile but I’ve seen many avoidable disasters created due coaches simply not paying attention. Improper bar or board settings, cable tensions not adequate, improper table height, athletes competing out of order etc are a few examples. Other things to watch for are knowing where you stand in the rankings (if you are sitting good going into the last event, perhaps you water down a last tumbling pass or beam dismount ….water to win!). Know your athletes start values as compared to those that are flashed (this is where actually paying attention to the performance can be vitally important) so as to be able to determine if a mistake has been made. Know the score ranges of the flashed scores in case there is a need for an inquiry.
Stay True to form. Many coaches put on a different hat when they enter the competitive setting. This confuses athletes. If you expect consistent performance out of your athletes you should truly give them the same in return. Don’t switch personalities simply because it is show time.
I sincerely hope this helps or at least sparks some new thoughts when it comes to preparing your athletes for a championship event. Again, as always If you like the blog please feel free to share it with your coaching friends by simply clicking on your social media tab below.
Thanks and best of luck!