Peaking in gymnastics is kind of a funny thing. In college we competed every weekend so we had to be pretty much on form all season long. As the year got older we would hit routines cleaner and easier, but when you are expected to win from day one you have to be on your game. This year was the first real season that I decided to peak all my athletes for Nationals/Westerns. The girls are good enough now that winning at the end of the year is really a possibility. Before, we would try to peak for state or regionals just to make it to the next meet. It is a tough idea to sell to kids that are used to winning from meet number 1 of the season at the compulsory level. They don't really look at how a routine was cleaner or stronger, they just know if they made it all the way through.
I think the girls started to understand what we were doing part way through the season. Their routines were getting better, and they were hitting more and more of them in training. Once we made it to state championships the girls were really starting to hit their stride. We were not at the peak, just the start of it, but we were going well enough that the level 9s were able to take the win.
When we are trying to get the girls to peak, we start to back off a lot on what we are doing. For some people I think this is a strange idea. I talked with some coaches last weekend where gyms were upping hours, doing more skills, more routines, more of everything. For us it was the opposite. Girls get their work done and we go home. Of course this is difficult to do if your athlete isn't hitting routines and you haven't done your work earlier in the season.
A former coach that worked for me put if very simply for the girls once and I still use it today. When we train we do things in steps, and each step is very important and if you miss a step you will not be successful. Early in the season it is easy to want to skip steps when you feel you are behind. But when you look at the big picture you have to realize that you are only on step 3 of 10 for example. Skipping from step 3 to 6 would leave a foundation of shaky stones instead of solid concrete.
With that in mind we do large numbers early in the year, and as we get close to the end of the season, it makes it easy to focus on lower numbers, lower conditioning, and more mental preparation.
The mental preparation was the biggest benefit to our team I feel. To achieve that meant we had to have more succes. That meant if an athlete was having a good day we stopped with what we had. We didn't push to get more. And if it was a bad day we quit early too and blamed it on "a bad day", making sure to have a good day the next day. This causes the athlete to feel more successful. The example would be I would rather an athlete hit 2 or 3 of any particular thing we were doing that day, be it routine, skill, or part. Rather than hit 5 of something and miss 5 or 6 of it as well. If the athlete hits her first 3 skills move on, don't "push your luck" trying to get more done. Remember your numbers should have been done long ago. Also I don't want an athlete to go on missing skill after skill, or routine after routine. If I have done my job right one bad day here or there wont ruin anything on the run in to National/Westerns. So if it is a bad day, or just a bad skill, I cut it off in an effort to keep the athlete's mental state high.
There is no replacing your base work in the summer and fall. If you cannot get the numbers in you will not have a consistant athlete. That means early in the year, good, bad, or ugly you do the numbers you need to do. You may be able to get a couple good meets or workouts from pure mental prep, but it is extremely difficult for an athlete to believe in their ability if they have not done the numbers. But combining skill work and mental prep will create a real competitor and can show you and your athlete a lot of success.