How to Prepare for World Sport Stacking Championships

by Lisa Berman, TEAM USA, St. Louis, MO
Feb 28, 2019

The following are excerpts from emails sent by Lisa Berman to the State Team members in March of 2018 as they prepared for the World Sport Stacking Championships. Coaches and stackers training for any event might find the information useful.

Preparing for World Sport Stacking Championships

Part One-4 Weeks Out

This will be my 4th World Sport Stacking Championships. I have learned a lot about competing in this event just by experience and wanted to share that experience with all of you so that you can enter this competition feeling as prepared as you can be.

Here is the big picture in terms of the mindset I believe you should have to do your best at Worlds:

  1. The room is full of champion stackers. Everyone has reached a great level of accomplishment. You are one of those people. Feel good about the stacker you are! Confidence is the key to being a great stacker at any competition.
  2. You will do best if you put out of your mind the idea of wanting to do well at Worlds because it is the most important competition in sport stacking and will be a greater achievement than you have had before. This mindset will not help you do well. This mindset is likely to make you more nervous.
  3. Do not focus on making finals. Enjoy the experience of being at Worlds, doing your prelims, being in Head to Heads, seeing stackers in person that you’ve only seen on YouTube, and everything else you can get out of it. Making finals is a bonus and having this mindset will take off some of the pressure you will put on yourself. We got on a plane to Taiwan knowing Holly and Darius would be unlikely to make finals, but we all agreed it was still worth going even that far and not making finals. Our family finds it truly that special of an experience.
  4. Your goals for prelims should be to do YOUR best stacking. What are strong times for you? If you can get those times in prelims at Worlds, you should consider that a homerun and you will feel like you did your best, even if you are not in finals.

Training 4 weeks out:

  1. Our family practices every day for the 100 days leading up to Worlds. Some days we stack for 15 minutes just to get our hands on the cups and sometimes we put more focus and energy into practicing. I suggest a daily practice if you are not already.
  2. WARM UP! It is very important to warm up. No timing during warm up except for as indicated and speed is not the goal: My 2 favorite warm ups are the 5-5-5 and the 1-2-3-4-5. These are warm ups we do at my club. 5-5-5 means you do five 3-3-3’s then five 3-6-3’s and then 5 cycles. No timing. Focus on your technique and not fumbling. Do this for 15 minutes. 1-2-3-4-5 1 shuffle stack, 2 rapid fires, 3 minutes of 3-3-3 (turn on the timer and do 3-3-3’s over and over for 3 minutes), then 4 minutes of 3-6-3’s and then 5 minutes of cycles. Times can be shortened for younger stackers. During warm ups, really examine your stacking-Is your technique efficient? If you fumble, why is that? For instance, I know one of my weak areas is the location of my column when I upstack the 10. If it’s in the center of the mat, I tend to fumble on the downstack or have to do a slow down. If I place it just to the right of center, then it goes much more smoothly. During the 5 minutes of stacking my cycle, I pay special attention to that so that I’m building muscle memory to do it without thinking. So, warm up is a great time to identify what needs attention and build skills in that area.
  3. Great stacking consists of speed and consistency. You can keep working on new personal bests, but this is the time to start building up your consistency. Set consistency goals this week. They will be slower than your personal bests.

Example: My personal bests are 2.3, 3.1 and 8.7 and while I would hold 3 world records if I could get those times in competition, it is just not where I am today for competition reality. My consistency goals in a comp training are 2.6, 3.4 and 9.5. See the difference? I can only get those personal bests inconsistently, but those consistency goals I really can get when I do my best focused stacking. When I get those consistency goals down, I reduce them by a tenth of a second at a time. Right now, I’m kind of stuck on those, but I’ll keep working on it!

  1. Comp trainings: End every practice session with a comp training or 3 or 4. Really put yourself in the mindset of “I’m at Worlds. This is my prelim.” See how you do. Did it go well? Why or why not? Try not to be judgmental, but analytical. The more scientific you are about your performance and less judgmental you are will also help you feel confident in any competition.

Obviously, parents will have to paraphrase all this for the youngest stackers, but I think these notes will put everyone on a path to confident successful stacking at Worlds.

Happy Stacking,


Part Two-3 Weeks Out


I love the book Michael’s Golden Rules. If you’ve never read it, it is a picture book written by Michael Jordan’s mom and sister (I think) and is all about being a good sport and a good athlete. I’ve attached a photo from the book.

The two athletes in the story are baseball players and not having a very good season. They seek some advice from an older adult who was also a strong athlete. Here is the advice:


1.       Know the game.

2.       Pay attention to the coach at all times.

3.       Know your opponent.

4.       Be a team player.

5.       Practice a winning attitude.

6.       Find out what you do best.

7.       Find out what you need to work on.

8.       Practice, practice, practice.

9.       Learn from your mistakes.

10.   Have fun!


All this is relevant to sport stacking and being at World Sport Stacking Championships. Each number below relates to a “golden rule” above.

1.       You all know our sport well enough to be involved in it at an international level. Parents, if you feel like you need to understand the sport better, I encourage you to read the WSSA Rule Book.

2.       Please read my emails and give my advice some thought. If something I put doesn’t feel like it will work for you, that’s okay. As long as you consider it and figure out what works for you, that’s the same thing.

3.       Know your opponent. To get an understanding of what to expect at Worlds, you could look at the 10th place prelim times at Worlds, Asian Opens and JO’s for the past few years in your age division. This is not definitive of the times that will make finals, but can give you an idea of what might be true. This can be discouraging to some stackers so try not to hang your success on those numbers. It’s just a way to understand the field of stackers. It is okay to check that out 3 weeks out, but then forget those numbers and go back to last week’s advice where I said not to focus on making finals.

4.       Be a team player. This will be important especially when practicing for relays and doubles. The teams that work well together and encourage each other will be more relaxed and more successful. So,

5.       Practice a winning attitude. ‘Nuf said.

6.       Find out what you do best. HOMEWORK: Reflect on this during practice this week. Use this as a way to boost your confidence.

7.       Find out what you need to work on. MORE HOMEWORK: What are your weak areas? Spend more time on that this week. I’ll give some ideas below of what might be areas of concern for all stackers.

8.       Practice, practice, practice…comp trainings and finals practice. See more below.

9.       Learn from your mistakes. What has gone well for you this season? What do you wish you had done differently? Now is the time to consider your weaknesses from past competitions and see what you can do to improve your performance.

10.   Have fun! I want everyone to leave Worlds feeling like it was one of the best experiences they have had. Your “winning attitude” can help ensure this outcome.


Training goals for this week:


1.       Comp trainings. As you complete comp trainings, have a goal of getting at least 2 times you are happy with out of 3. It seems that often stackers get 1 out of 3 and call that a success. Being consistent enough to get 3 out of 3 similar times is super, but we know everyone has fumbles. Going for 2/3 in each event during your comp trainings is a great goal to build consistency.

2.       Finals practice. Lots of stackers do comp trainings like prelims, but I don’t hear of many doing Finals practice. Really focus on one stack at a time (3-3-3, then 3-6-3, then cycle) as if you are in all 3 finals. Practice 3-3-3 for 10 minutes then complete 2 practices and 3 attempts, then move on to practicing the 3-6-3 for a bit and then do your 3-6-3 “finals” and then the cycle. Reflect on how this is the same or different from your comp trainings. In which type of practice are you more consistent? Work on whichever you are weaker.

3.       Consistency training sheet. I’ve sent this to some of you before. Imagine if we only got 1 attempt in our sport. Lots of sports are like that. This sheet takes you through comp trainings where you only get 1 attempt, then 2 attempts and then 3. How would you approach your prelims or finals if you only had one attempt? If you fumble on or scratch your first 2 attempts, it’s the same thing. Use this sheet to practice your best stacking in 1 attempt, then 2, then all 3. When you got all 3, how many were ones you’d be happy to get. (see #1)

4.       Don’t throw away an attempt. I see some stackers finish their stack that they know will not be faster than a previous attempt with a mess of crashing cups. I see this on YouTube and in competition. Do not end any stack this way IN PRACTICE OR IN COMPETITION! You need to end every attempt with a clean finish. I know one of the stacks might fall afterwards, but you should never intentionally cause the scratch with an unclean finish. What you see as a catastrophe not worthy of salvaging might be less catastrophic than one of your opponent’s attempts. Always practice a strong finish in case that is the one that is better than someone else’s imperfect attempt. 

Happy stacking,



Part Three- One Week Until Orlando!

Training plan for this week: 

This week is all about confidence! What can you confidently do? 

You need to do LOTS of comp trainings and think about different scenarios. 

-How will you handle your three attempts? 

-What if you are not happy with your first 2 attempts? 

I get asked a lot about how to handle nerves at the table. My favorite book to understand about handling nerves in competition is called The Inner Game of Tennis. Since I can't really cover the book here, this is how I summarized it recently for another stacker:


  • Be confident. Don’t second guess yourself. Let yourself do the stacking you know can do. Be the best YOU you can be. 
  • Do not think about trying to get a certain time or who you are competing against. Live in the moment. Thinking about past failures or hopes for a time at the end of your stacking is distracting from the actual stacking. Just focus as completely as possible on the stacking you are doing in the moment and how it feels when you do it well. I also think it helps to look at each stack and not let your eyes get ahead of your hands.
  • To help with shaky hands, I tighten my core. That helps me and maybe it will help you.
  • If you feel your heart beating, etc. step back and really focus on your other senses. The feel of the cups, really looking at the cups, etc.
  • Take a deep breath before you start and don’t rush into each attempt.


I might have said this before, but I also suggest never using your timer at the on deck table or during your 2 warm ups. Make the focus in those moments the stacking and not the time.

Part Four-This is the Week!

This week is all about comp trainings! You should know by now what you can confidently accomplish at the competition table. Keep preparing to do your best stacking!

Happy Stacking,



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