• Jasmine Kwok

Tips to Cope with Performance Anxiety!

Today is the big day, the competition you’ve been training for for years and months. Each practice, each workout, each drop of sweat has prepared you for this very moment. The stakes are high and it feels as if everyone’s eyes are resting upon you. You have big expectations for yourself and rightfully so, but now your greatest fear is ‘choking,’ when it matters the most. You fear that all of your hard work will be worthless. There is all this build up and anticipation and you’re not sure if the pressure is something you can handle.

Many athletes experience performance anxiety, especially before crucial events and competitions. This kind of stress doesn’t necessarily come from the environment around you but rather your internal thoughts that make the situation much more daunting than it may be.


Causes of Performance Anxiety:

Athletes often develop a perceived lack of ability, leading to stress and immense nervousness. In other words, athletes may suffer with new and sometimes overwhelming self doubts once they get to their big moment. That inner voice in your head can be the trickiest obstacle to overcome and even though it is up to you to collect your thoughts and perform the best you can. Also, and this may be different for individuals, unfamiliar settings can lead to greater anxiety.


For example, having an away game and playing on a whole new field can increase the nerves which are contagious throughout the team. Performance anxiety can be unhealthy not just mentally but also physically. It could lead to heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest tightening, which amplifies the stress levels as you feel overwhelmed and unable to function properly.


How to cope/prevent performance anxiety :

There are measures that you could take before, during, and after an event to help reduce your stress levels.

Before:

  • Arrive at the event early. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and do whatever you need to do to get yourself mentally and physically prepared. You can get a good feel of the environment.

  • Positive self affirmations. If you think you’re going to do badly, then your performance will follow. Although it may be harder than it sounds, going into something with a positive and optimistic mindset, knowing that you worked your hardest, is sometimes all you can do before your big day!

  • Visualize yourself succeeding. Allow yourself to figure out how you’re going to succeed and make it happen! You have the skills and the dedication. It’s time to put it in action.

  • Get rest. Allow your mind and body to relax before your big day. Don’t overthink it to the point where it lingers with you day in and day out. It is okay to be nervous but make sure you’re resting and recovering as well. This will improve your performance.

During:

  • Envision yourself at practice. Treat this no differently than a training session. Remember all the tips your coach has given you. This could reduce the stress levels and allow you to see the competition like any other practice you go to.

  • Focus on the moment. Don’t think about the end result or your mind will waver from the competition in front of you. Take it one stride, one move, or one kick at a time.

  • Give it your all. Even if you end up not getting the outcome you were going for, you can be satisfied knowing that there was nothing else you could have done. We all win and lose some. If you left everything you had out there, you’re bound to be proud of yourself. Losing does not mean you disappointed everyone or had a bad performance; it’s all a part of the process.

After:

  • Focus on what you did well and take advice to improve. Each day that you train, you’re becoming a better athlete. Pat yourself on the back for performing with such high standards. Now, it’s time to get ready for the next race/event.

  • Move on! This is easier said than done, I know (believe me, I struggle with this all the time). You had a less than satisfactory performance, so what? Use that to fuel you during practice and future competitions! No one is perfect and it is okay and inevitable to experience defeat sometimes. It is over and there’s no changing the past. You can only strive for a better future.

How you can help someone with performance anxiety:

Even though stakes may be high and the competitive tension can be stressful, coaches and teammates can help make the environment a little more relaxing.

  • Spread encouraging messages rather than, “don’t mess up on this or we’ll lose.” Saying things like that would only amplify the stressful situation. Words of other people could be triggers to performance anxiety.

Some examples of positive messages:

  • “We believe in you.”

  • “We are proud of you, no matter what.”

  • “Do your best, the rest will come”

  • Usually amateur athletes are more prone to being mentally influenced by the people around them, as they don’t have as much experience under pressure. Coaches and teammates should realize that it is very difficult to perform in tip top form right off the bat.

  • During practices, coaches should think about engaging in breathing or meditation activities, providing athletes with a way to cope with stress.

  • For ‘group huddles,’ or pre-game talks, it’s best for coaches to limit the talk to necessary information and strategies rather than trying to rouse energy levels.

  • Setting realistic goals for your players and athletes while not diminishing their competitive spirit will allow them to realize it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.

Performance anxiety is completely normal and common. It is healthy and motivating to have adrenaline and some jitters before a big event- it shows that you care and that you’re amped up for it. However, there’s a certain point where it can get to your head and weigh you down. Hopefully these tips can help, even if it’s in the slightest bit! As you gain more experience, you’ll learn what works best for you when it comes to controlling your nerves- it just takes time!


Sources:

1) "How to Handle Performance Anxiety as an Athlete." Verywell Fit, www.verywellmind.com/how-do-i-handle-performance-anxiety-as-an-athlete-3024337.

2) "Sports Psychology for Performance Anxiety." Verywell Fit, www.verywellfit.com/sports-psychology-for-performance-anxiety-3119436.


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