5 years ago
Before you read this blog, if you don’t know much about speedcubing competitions, then definitely check out the World Cube Association (WCA) website. The WCA governs speedcubing competitions all around the world, and I’d highly recommend attending one in your area, if you haven’t already done so. They are incredibly fun and rewarding, and the environment at the competitions I have attended is always very inclusive. It doesn’t matter how fast you are or how long you’ve been cubing - everyone is just there to have fun, and for the most part, compete against themselves.
Here are links to the WCA’s about page, the FAQ, and the list of upcoming competitions around the world. Before you enter a competition, you should be familiar with and understand the WCA regulations. Here is a handy YouTube WCA competitor tutorial developed by Chris Olson and Kit Clement, which is definitely worth watching.
Now that’s out of the way, here’s the main blog!
Speedsolving cubes at home and improving your ability is challenging enough, but when it comes to actually solving and performing well in an official competition setting, it’s a whole new ball game. Many people, including myself, can sometimes perform considerably worse in official solves, compared to home solve times, and it can be quite frustrating when this happens repeatedly. A small part of this might be a sampling bias, because it’s unlikely you’ll get close to your best times when you’re only doing a small number of solves in each competition, compared to the unlimited solves you’re able to do at home. However, the pressure and the competition environment can certainly play a huge role in this.
In this blog I’m going to list a bunch of ideas and techniques that you can try out when you’re preparing for a competition and when you’re doing your official solves, with the aim to improve your official solves. I'm also interested to hear other ideas and perspectives, so feel free to share those in the comments section.
In the lead up to a competition, normally about 2-3 weeks out, I check the competition event list and determine which events I need to focus on and practice. Then, for the 2-3 weeks leading up to the competition, I will only practice and do solves for those events. If you’re aiming to compete well in 3x3, 4x4, and OH, it doesn’t really make much sense to practice 7x7 and megaminx heavily before the competition.
Additionally, in the weeks before a competition, I’ll stop learning any new algorithms. If you learn algorithms a day or even a week before a comp, there is a pretty high probability that you’ll either forget the algorithm, or mess it up, should it come up in one of your official solves. For that reason, most cubers recommend not to learn any new algorithms in the period before a competition.
I find it very useful to try and simulate a competition environment when at home, as there are so many differences between doing a big timed average on your laptop, and an official competition average - the two settings are very very different. In competition, you only do 5 solves at a time, you have a break between solves where you might be standing up and talking to people, you can’t touch your main solving cube or warm up on it between solves, and it’s often very loud and there are many distractions. You have a judge who officiates the solve and calls out inspection time, which can also add pressure, and you have to use a stackmat timer to time your solves. These are the primary factors which make competition solves different, and generally more difficult. I’ve talked about this elsewhere before, but if you can try and actually simulate that competition environment at home, and do your practice as if your solves were official, then that’ll go a fair way to making you more comfortable in comp. Of course, you can’t copy everything, but you can certainly simulate the stackmat setup (if you have one), the timing between solves, add in some competition background noise, and only do discrete averages of 5 solves at a time. Max Park does this on YouTube a lot, if you’re interested in an example. You don’t necessarily need someone else to scramble your cube, you can scramble it immediately after your solve and cover it up before your next attempt. After you try doing competition-style averages of 5, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect from yourself in an actual competition round.
At the competition itself, there are a few things that I try (but don’t always get a chance) to do.
The first and most important thing for me is warm up. I rarely achieve good results if I only do a few solves before a round. Even at home, it sometimes takes me 15-20 minutes to warm up and start getting good times, and so where possible, I try to do this in competitions. Warming up involves not only making sure your hands and forearms are physically warm, and your turning speed is solid, but also warming up your mind and your lookahead. I don’t do much more than just timed solves, but sometimes I like to do solves where I turn really calmly and smoothly, and still try to get good times.
Ideally, once you begin competing in a round, you should try to clear your mind as much as possible, and make the whole process automatic. This is easier said than done. Anthony Brooks made a great post a little while ago about overthinking (“paralysis by analysis”) in official solves.
Something I’ve adopted over the last few years is a loose pre-solve routine - loose in the sense that it’s not completely identical every time. Having a routine gives you something to do before each solve, but you need to have practiced it enough at home for it to actually be automatic - you shouldn’t think about it in competition. It also doesn’t need to be very complicated. Personally, I like to do a few PLL algorithms on a solved cube, and then perhaps scramble it. After that I might wipe my hands if they are sweaty, take a deep breath, and then begin the official attempt. Nothing more than that, I keep it pretty simple, but try to be consistent. I have heard of some speedcubers who immediately begin their attempt as soon as they sit down at the solving station to try and avoid psyching themselves out by waiting too much. Others prefer to wait a little while after sitting down before starting their attempt, it’s an individual preference and I have experimented with both.
At TCG and Friends 2015, I tried out something a bit different in the final, where I just continually did timed speedsolves for the entire round. In between each attempt, I probably did 4 or 5 solves on a mobile timer, and then would just immediately switch over to my official solve, do that, and then switch back to the other solves. The thinking with that was to try and replicate a session at home, where there are only short breaks between solves. I didn’t really do that again because it did waste a bit of time (although it was within the regulations). I have heard of other pre-solve or pre-round routines such as doing physical exercise, and eating something during official solves.
A couple of really specific thoughts I keep in my head during a round are to a) Never give up on a solve (I try not to!), and b) Make sure my grip on the cube is solid. I aim to never completely give up on a solve, particularly if it’s early on in the round, because you never know what might happen either later on in the solve, or later on in your other solves. Even if you mess up the start of a solve, there’s always a chance you could recover well and then get a PLL skip later on. The reason I like to think about having a solid grip is because I tend to fumble and slip in my solve when I’m nervous, and so if I just have that thought in my head, it lowers the chance that I’ll drop the cube or fumble it for a split second. Ideally these habits will also become subconscious over time.
I think hardware is particularly important in competitions as well. You should have a cube that you’re completely confident will not pop or malfunction, and which is really stable. In competitions, many people get shaky hands, and so even though your turning may be really calibrated at home, you’ll almost definitely turn less accurately in competition, and a bad cube can magnify this problem and cause unwanted lockups.
So that’s about it for now - I realise this is a pretty lengthy post already, but if you are thinking of entering an official competition, do it ASAP as I mentioned at the beginning. You’ll learn so much from others at competitions and meet people with a really cool shared hobby.
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