The Psychology Of Competition In Sports

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Let’s talk about the Psychology of Competition in Sports.

How do you create a winning mindset so you are prepared and ready when it comes to competition time? Today we are sharing insights on The Psychology of Competition from Olympic Gold Medalist Peter Vidmar.

This is Part One from Wendy Lynne, Director of Mental Toughness Academy’s interview with Peter.


I had a motto and many of us in the gym have this motto at UCLA. And the motto is this, “Practice as if its competition, but compete as if its practice.” Meaning everyday matters.

It is easy in the drudgery of training day in and day out to just show up at the gym or show up on the track and work out hard, but if you are not mentally tough in putting yourself in that competitive environment then I think you are short changing yourself when it comes to the competition.

So what I did in the gym when I perform a routine, I did what every gymnast would do in competition. I looked at my coach and imagined he was the judge, I would raise my hand just like a gymnast would signal the judge, and then I would turn and face the apparatus, and begin a performance. I did that for every routine of my life for 12 years.

youth sportsI never said, “Hey Coach! Here I go! Doing a routine now,” and jump up there and do a routine. I signaled him as if he was a judge. That told me this performance matters. It’s not just going through the motions.

To take that a step further, there are times when I would close my eyes and imagine I was at the Olympic Games and the gold medal was my line and I had to do this routine. I had to make it successful. I could get my heart to start pounding and feel that nervous energy that you tend to only feel in sports competition.

I could feel that in a work out, so I felt like I was in the arena competing at the Olympics, for example, or at the NCAA championships or whatever the big event was coming up. Then when I got to the actual event, the Olympics or the NCAA championships or the world championships, instead I would do the opposite.

I would imagine I was back at the gym and workout with just a few people watching me.

youth sportsSo practice like its competition, but compete like its practice. You’ve got to get the emotions to balance out.

You’re up here emotionally in a competitive environment with a crowd watching you when you know there is something important on the line, in the workout you tend to be down here because it doesn’t really matter that day in the gym.

If you can somehow bring your emotional level up in workout, and when you get to competition somehow bring that level down a little bit so you are more comfortable, then you tend to approach the same environment and the same feelings you have.

Now you are in familiar territory. You know how to handle it in that situation and you don’t freak out because you’ve got a million people watching you on television. Instead you think, “No I am just back at the gym, I know how to do this.” So that is what I would do mentally to get prepared and to compete when it really mattered.

When I showed up in the arena, I would go before I did anything, before I touched the apparatus, or even begin stretching, I would watch from event to event to event and say, “How can I place this horizontal bar back at the gym? Where should I stand? Where should I begin facing this way or facing this way towards the bar?”

youth sportsI would look at the pommel horse and say, “How can I make this pommel horse feel like it’s the pommel horse back at the gym?
Should I face the pommel horse this way with the open space in front or behind me?” Now when I did it in the gym the pommel horse was at the side of the gym and I always begin with all the open space in front of me.

So that is how I would my do all my routines in an arena and competition. Find the biggest open space where the pommel horse was and I would start facing that way, so I felt more like I was doing it back at the gym.

I went that far and I really think that helped.

Click here to go to the next part of this series!

If you missed the first part of this series, click here!

youth sportsPeter Vidmar, the highest scoring American gymnast in Olympic history, is a leader in the Olympic movement today. He has worked for many years as the gymnastics commentator for CBS Sports and ESPN.

Peter is also a powerful and entertaining speaker at corporate meeting and trade shows. With over 2 decades of experience, he helps people throughout the country realize their full potential with his message of Risk, Originality and Virtuosity.

Click here
to get his amazing book.

5 thoughts on “The Psychology Of Competition In Sports

  1. Connie Singleton

    Russians are basically the pommel horse equivalent of a dog chasing its tale. Woof. Because Russians look so funny, they are pretty easy to spot. (Even a men’s gymnastics neophyte can pick out a Russian in a pommel routine.) So, I have chosen to start my pommel horse primer with the Russians.

  2. Gold Price

    With the help of Holt – who previously coached gymnasts in 13 different world championships for six different federations – al-Harazi qualified for the world championships in Aarhus, Denmark, and trained briefly in Seattle with Jim and his wife Hannah before the competition in October 2006. He placed 27th on the vault and showed some promise on both floor and pommel horse; he also became the first Yemeni ever to compete at the world championships in the sport of gymnastics.

  3. Lindsey N. Strong

    Smith’s bronze on pommel horse in Beijing was a proud moment for the British, who weren’t even an afterthought in gymnastics a decade ago, and it gave him the kind of celebrity status usually reserved for soccer stars. He did the rounds of talk shows, and showed up in ads for everything from fast food to clothes to cars. He even got to meet the Queen.


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