The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard Before a Competition

Every athlete lives for competition day and figuring out how to optimize performance is the top priority. No matter the level of competition, the way you prepare in the days and months leading up to an event will determine whether or not you succeed. It takes some athletes years to figure out the intricacies involved in being their best, but we’re taking the fast track by asking some fitness professionals and athletes to share the best advice that helped them succeed. These seven tips might be exactly what you need to boost your performance.

1. Be conservative at the beginning

deadlift, weight lifting, exercise

Weight lifting | Source: iStock

The best tip I’ve ever gotten: there’s no such thing as too light of an opening attempt. Opening light builds confidence and guarantees you don’t bomb out. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen open too heavy and miss their opener, which ruins what could otherwise have been a successful day.

Tony Bonvechio, CSCS at Cressey Sports Performance and powerlifter

2. Treat competition day like every day

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Competing at gymnastics | Source: iStock

 My gymnastics coach used to say, “It’s just practice.” She never wanted us to develop rituals or superstitions around our meets. Rather, she encouraged us to normalize our competitions as much as possible, and go in with the mindset of a really great workout rather than a stressful or fearful event.

Amanda Dale, CPT, frequent marathon and triathlete competitor, former gymnastics competitor, and founder of ThisFitBlonde

3. Keep a positive attitude

road race, marathon, starting line

Preparing for a competition | Source: iStock

I was coaching high school cross country in Seattle, Wash., when I asked an incredibly over-achieving runner of mine, “What’s your though process before races?” She said, “I just smile and think about all of the people I’m going to beat today.” That was the player turning advice onto the coach. Ever since then I’ve used that mindset in my own competitions, whether it has been as a marathoner, a player, or as a coach. Often, the best lessons we learn are from our own athletes.

Steve Boyle, former Division 1 basketball player, founder and director of 2-4-1 Sports, and youth coach who has worked with more than 2,000 athletes. 

4. Out-prepare your fellow competitors

gymnast, practicing, rings, exercise

A man competing | Source: iStock

As a gymnast, my coach simply reminded us, “You have a target on your back. The other guys are trying to beat you. They did 10 routines today to do that. Have you done 11 to make sure they can’t?”

Steven Sashen, former high school All-American gymnast and CEO of Xero Shoes

5. Be focused and patient

running, road race, marathon, athletes

Running in a race | Source: iStock

I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many great athletes of all levels and have received a lot of great advice that has helped me in the process. One great piece of advice for competition, shared by many fellow athletes, is to always remain focused and stay on pace.

In regards to pace, one of my elite marathon runners once told me, “watching a marathon at mile one is like watching a big crowd in New Orleans going to a party; people are laughing, singing, and high-fiving. At mile 22, it’s like watching troops come in from a battle; heads are down, eyes are down, and feet are shuffling.” Especially for distance events, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement at the beginning, get distracted, and go out too hard, too early.

“Pace, don’t race,” is always a good mantra in the beginning to help keep you from getting too caught up in the excitement. All the fastest runners do a negative split, meaining the second part of the race is faster than the first. It is better to feel as though you’re going out too slowly and conserve your energy.

Luke Bongiorno, Orthology and NY SportsMed & Physical Therapy director of physical therapy and marathon competitor

6. Don’t overthink things


A skateboard | Source: iStock

Just before rolling into a 33-foot halfpipe and setting the world record for Highest Air on a Halfpipe, my buddy rolled up to give me some simple, but not easy, advice. He said, “You’ve done all the work. You’ve practiced as much as anyone could. That’s done now, so get out of your head. Stop trying to figure out what’s going to happen. Your body knows what to do. All you have to do now is enjoy the ride … oh, and don’t die. Actually, forget the self help garbage. Just listen to the end bit.” In spite of his sarcasm, the advice was exactly what I needed to hear right then. And I didn’t die.

Eitan Kramer, personal trainer, former professional inline halfpipe skater, and founder of MorfBoard

7. Compete against yourself

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Training | Source: iStock

The best advice I have ever received before a competition is to just focus on my own performance. I have no control over the competition; I can only control my own race. At the end of the day, my best performances have usually been when I have been competing against myself and not focusing on what those around me were doing.

Aimee Shilling, competitive runner with more than 23 years of experience and owner of Forty by Forty Fitness

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