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How to Hit

Photo of KU celebrating in the last pyramid after our zero-deduction routine at 2015 UCA College Nationals.

It still makes me happy seeing the look on the team’s faces at the end of our zero-deduction routine at 2015 UCA College Nationals.

At the 2015 UCA College Nationals, KU (the squad that my wife and I coached) was one of only a few Div1A Large Coed teams with a zero-deduction hit in finals. And it felt GOOD!!! LOL. But why did 18 teams drop? It’s the classic problem in cheer: you’ve had hours of hard practices, you’ve done your reps, you know the routine, but then at the competition, for some reason it doesn’t hit. Why? It’s not just cheer – golfers miss the winning putt, a wide receiver drops an easy pass. So why, at the worst possible time, do we sometimes struggle to hit something we know we can do?

In Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance, he explains that when the pressure’s on, an athlete’s mental state is key. So what’s the right state of mind? It’s not about focusing really hard — if you think about every little movement, your brain will get in the way of what your body has already learned through hours of practice. But it’s also not about turning off your mind completely, which could cause you to space out and go to the wrong corner or miss counts.

The ideal performance state is a “relaxed focus.” Your mind should be present in the moment, but not thinking about every movement. It should flow, with a relaxed focus on the skill as a whole. Doing this takes practice (don’t try it for the first time in Worlds finals! haha). It’s a skill that can be learned by practicing that mental state during EVERY full-out, partial run, and mark-through on the mat. That’s what champions do – they practice not just the physical skills, but the mental game, every time until it’s habit.

Champions practice their mental game with a relaxed focus every rep, skill, & performance. Share on X

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