Athletes, Competition, Mental Training, Preparation, Training, Winning

Training Methods to Maximize Success: Preparing for the Big Moment

So you have a big event to prepare for and it is imparative that you are ready in every aspect for a successful outcome. How is this done? What are the best methods in preparing both physically and mentally? It is different for every individual so there is no specific training manual on how to accomplish this goal. Here we will discuss several methods of Preparing for the Big Moment. Since the methods vary and are personal to each individual, I will discuss the methods that worked best for me in my preparation for a Big Moment. (This is a snapshot of material on this subject)

Preparing for big events, such as national or world competitions, requires training that is both physical and mental. Both work hand-in-hand and must be synched perfectly for the ultimate positive result. We call this “Peaking”. The process may be long and take months in preparation. Although there are many methods used, there are particular steps that should be followed along the way.

Although it takes both physical and mental preparation (both are extremely important for success), the physical aspect usually is the first step in preparation (once a commitment has been made). An athelte must get in the best physical shape possible as they progress toward the goal. This takes time and requires a highly structured training schedule. As in all physical activities, training should be progressive. This means the athlete should start off slow and increase intensity as the body becomes stronger. In many cases, if the athlete initiates a training schedule aggressively, the potential for injury becomes greater.

In the initial training process, focus should be on gaining strength, endurance, and skill development. These elements are crucial as it is the foundation that will be built upon as training progresses. New skill development and training for perfection is a major part of the process. This is what the next stage is based on.

As initial training progresses and the athlete gets into optimal shape, the training regiment should change. It takes many hours of hard work to get the body in top physical condition. Once this is achieved, it should be maintained. Thus, training time and entensity may taper off. If the athlete “overtrains”, they could experience injury or burn-out before peak performance is achieved. Many athletes refer to this as “training smarter – not harder”.

The time at which this change in intensity takes place in training development is different for everyone. In many cases, the younger athlete may endure longer periods of intense training. Whereas, the older athlete may need to make this change earlier. It takes time and experience to get this time dynamic figured out. In my early years as an Elite athlete, I could train aggressively for long periods of time. However, as I became older (and more decrepit:) I needed to adjust my training schedule to lower the intensity much earlier so as to not increase risks of injury.

This is the stage in training where the mental and emotional aspects become a major focus. At this point, the body should be in great and optimal condition. Skills should be developed and closely (if not) perfected. Complete “routines” should be created at this point and trained mostly in entirety. This is the stage when consistency is created and consistency is developed through repetition.

As time gets closer to the Big Event, the athlete needs to gain complete confidence in their ability to succeed (the emotional factor). Maintaining success in every training session is critical. Meaning- every routine and performance in practice needs to be successful without fail. This will create a great deal of confidence. If there is consistant failure (missing routines), confidence will be weak and will most likely make for questionable results.

At this stage, mental preparations will naturaly occur. This includes mental performance even outside of the practice arena. We call this “Imagery”. Most athletes will emotionally perform their actions or routines in their minds as if actually doing the action physically. In initial Imagery practices, the thoughts may not always be positive. In many cases, the imagery has failure. This may be a result of a lack of confidence. However, as the athlete becomes more confident, the Imagery will be mostly positive and successful.

1984 USA Men’s Olympic Gymnastics Team

When both physical and mental abilities are at their most positive levels, the athlete is ready for the Big Event. Much time and effort has been put into this preparation and the outcome will hopefully be a successful outcome. We all learn by our mistakes, so if the result is not as positive as hoped for, adjustments will be made so the next Big Event will have a better chance at success. No matter what though, the athlete needs to Go For It!! Who knows, it could result in an Olympic Gold Medal!!

Scott Johnson
1984 Olympic Gold Medalist 1988 Olympic Team Captain

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Coaching, Success, Training, Winning

The Coach: Creating the Successful Athlete

SJ Parallel Bars pic

Many athletes who participate in competitive sports have a desire to be the best they can be and become a champion. These athletes pursue this goal as a full-time job. It may have started out as a hobby, but as they progress in their sport, the desires become extreme and the efforts are endless – and who helps these athletes follow and pursue their dreams and goals? The Coach!!  In his discussion, I will share my thoughts on the role of the coach in their pursuit to create a successful athlete.

Most coaches participated in their sport as an athlete when they were younger which gives them valuable experience in the development of skill training. However, just like the athlete, the coaches need to continue to educate themselves on training tools and technique. As the athlete progresses in the sport and begins to work on high level skills, the coach and athlete are learning together. For example, if a coach has never had an athlete reach the higher levels of sport, the coach would not be familiar with how to introduce and train the skills required of that level. In this case, the coach would need to attend seminars, coaches clinics, and conferences where they can learn the skills needed to progress the athlete. It is this scenario that many students will leave a gym and seek out a program that has success at higher levels.

two handstands in gym

When coaches see talent in a young athletes, they will often place them in a special program that helps in accelerating their development. These athletes usually start in a recreational program as beginner students but quickly move up the levels until they are ready to be placed in a program to prepare them for the competitive aspect of the sport. It is these talented athletes that coaches hope to see progress and evolve into the Elite level program. To become an Elite level athlete is a dream of many students, however, only a small fraction of athletes ever make it to this level. There are many factors that play a part in whether an athlete reaches these high levels of sport and many are determined by the coaching.

Many coaches dream of having the opportunity to develop and train an athlete to an Elite level. It takes many years for an athlete to reach this level and many gymnastics programs are designed for this development. As career coaches and gym owners know, the number of participants decline as the level increases. This is due to the extreme difficulty of gymnastics. Not only is the physical demands extreme in this sport, the emotional demands play an even larger role. As the levels increase, the risk factors also increase. To reach the higher levels of gymnastics, the athlete must have a low fear factor which allows them to train the difficult skills without stressing about the risks involved. Through proper training and skill development using a variety of drills, the risks are greatly reduced which raises the confidence in the athlete. Coaches of athletes training at these high levels are very creative in developing drills to assist the athlete in learning correct technique in a safe and comfortable environment.

oversplit on chair

It is at these higher levels where the athlete is now spending many hours a week in the gym.  It almost is considered “home” to many of these students.  Many do not have much of a social life and most of their existence is lived in the gym.  They actually spend more time with their coaches than their parents and family members.  It is critical that the coaches of these athletes build a positive and strong bond with them. I have stated in previous posts the importance of creating a positive and exciting environment so the athletes can stay motivated and move forward in a positive direction (Coaching: Lets Be Positive).  So many times, a negative or demeaning environment will create frustration, stress, and lack of motivation.  When a person loves what they are doing, they are more likely to be motivated to put out the effort needed to succeed.

male comp high bar

It is a very exciting time for the athlete and coaches when an athlete succeeds and moves up to the higher levels of sport.  This is the objective and what all the hard work in the gym has produced.  The coach, of course, plays a major part in this success and should also be rewarded for their efforts.  As the levels become higher and an Elite status is earned, the commitment to the sport goes to a new level.  Not only is the training extensive 6 to 7 days a week and 4-6 hours or more each day, the competitions become many and traveling extensive.  The coaches need to be strategic at this level in preparing the students for this lifestyle.  It is important that the training is designed to prepare the athlete for competitions.  When preparing for major competitions, the training is more focused on routine training and consistency.  New skill training takes a back seat during the heavy competitive season. There also needs to be some down time to allow the athlete to recuperate after a competition, especially if it was a major competition.  Not only is there a physical demand in the preparation of training and competing, there is also a strong emotional demand.  This needs to be considered to prevent the athlete, and coach, from burn-out.

handsprng vault

For those coaches who are considering a career in this upper level training environment, they need to understand the commitment.  It can be considered being “married” to your job.  Little time is spent at home with late nights and weekend trips.  If the coach has the passion and desire for this environment, just as the athlete has the passion and desire to be successful, both will succeed.  It certainly is a joint venture between the coach and student.  It takes motivation and effort for both in order to have a successful result.



Losing, Success, Winning

Win or Lose: Sports Learning Curve

winners cup

As a child growing up, I was very competitive in almost every activity. This was an attitude I developed on my own with no influence from my parents, siblings or peers. I was an active child and found my physical release in the way of participating in sports. Not to brag, but sports came natural for me and I was fairly successful in most physical activities. I believe much of this success had been my desire to win. When you talk with Olympic or Professional athletes, they all have one thing in common – the same desire to Win. But winning is not everything – we all lose at one time or another and it is a lesson that people, regardless of the activity or business, must learn to manage.

I have worked with both recreational students and competition athletes, and the dynamics are very different for each of these. In the recreational side of sports, the athletes participate mostly for the entertainment of the activity. In the absence of competition, the desire to win is not always the motivation driver to excel, but more simply, it’s just to learn. If on the other hand, the student strives to be the best compared to the other students in the gym they may have that burning desire to compete. With that said, some students simply want to be better than their classmates, this in itself can be considered competition.


For the competitive side of sports, the issue of winning and losing becomes much more of a serious issue. Competitive athletes do so with the understanding their performance will be compared to other athletes. This makes the desire to perform at their best paramount, and the desire to win all-consuming. Not only is this a major focus for the athlete, it can also be a major focus of the coaches and organization they represent. Athletes that are on collegiate scholarships or professional athletes, for example, also have an obligation to train and perform at an expected level in order to continue their participation. This is an external influence that high level athletes understand and accept as a condition of competition.



However, with this said, I do believe this focus needs to be adjusted depending on the age group and level of sport. I believe many youth programs put too much emphasis on the aspect of winning. This is a lot of pressure on a young student and may create unnecessary stress at such a young age. I have experienced watching coaches of students at the ages of 6-8 treating them as if they were training for the Olympic Games. I do not believe this is the correct approach as students of such a young age do not fully understand the ideals of commitment, motivation, and sacrifice. For those athletes in the higher levels of sport, the issue of participating to win is much stronger and efforts become greater to achieve this success.

When high level competitive athletes train to prepare for a major competition, the desire to win or place high in a particular ranking, the training becomes serious, more focused, and motivated. The aspect of ranking gives this scenario a serious dynamic. In many sports, there are events that are used for mobility to move an athlete from one level to the next. For example, there may be State level competitions, Regional level competitions, and National level competitions that an athlete must progress through to reach the highest levels of competition. When an athlete fails to reach the next level, there may be a feeling of disappointment and failure.

Failure phrase

It is this failure that is so important for almost every athlete to experience. In many cases, this failure makes the athlete realize and analyze the reason for the failure, and it becomes another learning situation. We have all heard the phrase “you learn from your mistakes”, and this is certainly true for anyone who experiences a failure and takes the steps necessary to make sure the same mistakes do not happen again.

In many cases, a disappointing failure is exactly what is needed for someone to become successful. This particular scenario happened to me as a national team athlete. Following the 1984 Olympic success of our men’s gymnastics team, I made the decision to continue with competitive gymnastics and attempt to make the 1988 Olympic team. However, due to our success in 1984, I had taken a step back from a serious training regiment and the effects were apparent the years to follow. In 1986, during the USA National Gymnastics Championships, which ranks the athletes for national team selection, I performed very poorly and was lucky to make the national team. For the first time in 8 years that was the lowest ranking I have experienced, and thus, was not chosen for the high-level national team competitions. I knew that I was a much better athlete then what I had shown and it was the slap in the face that I needed to get back on track. The following year, in 1987, I won the USA National Gymnastics Championships and for the first time in my career, became the All-Around National Champion. I knew this success would not have been possible if I had not experienced that failure the year before.

parents viewing

When a person experiences failure, they should have the support of their family, coaches and peers to help boost morale and confidence. For the athlete, this is a very important issue if the athlete is to continue in a positive manner. I believe one of the worst things that can happen is if a coach or parent degrades & humiliates the athlete because of a failure. This type of attitude can certainly be devastating for the athlete and may even cause a termination of participation. We all Fall once in a while and we need to get back up quickly, but sometimes it takes assistance, and we may need a crutch for a short period of time to help move forward in a positive direction.


It is always great to win and, for most people, miserable to lose. However, we are not always going to win, but hopefully not always going to lose. Every person needs to understand how to win and lose gracefully. Having great sportsmanship is very important in the participation of activities. I believe athletes should be humbled when they have a victory, and they should understand how to take failure with grace. Many people have different definitions for what failure means. I have seen athletes who may come in 2nd place at a competition and they see it as a failure. What needs to be understood is that winning is not easy – in fact, it can be very difficult. There are so many factors that must fall into place perfectly in order for one to be successful and rise above all the others. Such factors as health (being sick), injury, emotions, preparation, etc. can play a large part in the pursuit of success.

There is nothing better than winning, especially if there has been a strong desire and years of hard work to get to that point. Many successful people can look back at what it took to get there, like passion, motivation, sacrifice, patience, and failure. The road to success is usually always bumpy, full of ups and downs, and many detours. Through extreme focus and determination, the path to success can be followed through to completion. It certainly is a choice, and if it is the right choice, you just might Win!!