So many athletes suffer from debilitating performance anxiety. Right before big games they’re freaking out, hyperventilating and mentally setting themselves up to choke! Coaches and parents see this and offer these well-meaning words of advice, “JUST RELAX! YOU’RE TOO NERVOUS!“
The only problem with this kind of “help” is that it doesn’t really help the athlete do this. It doesn’t teach the athlete HOW TO RELAX! You can tell me I need to chill over and over again until you’re blue in the face, but if I don’t have clue #1 about how to calm down, then I am going to remain an anxious, freaked out mess!
Learning how to stay calm under pressure is probably one of the most important mental skills an athlete can have and is the hallmark of mental toughness. Far too many athletes do great in practice only to fall apart in competition because they don’t know how to stay calm when it counts the most.
Use the following strategies to help you put the brakes on runaway nerves:
#1. Control your pre-performance focus of concentration – You will never be able to calm down out-of-control nerves unless you can learn to control your pre-performance focus of concentration. There are two main concentration mistakes made by athletes that generate nerves.
The first is focusing on the outcome as you go into the contest. If you make a game too important, if you put too much pressure on yourself to win or score or play well, then chances are real good that you will stress yourself out and under- achieve. Instead, you must learn to go into a competition focusing on the process of your performance in the NOW, one point or play at a time. Leave your goals and expectations at home whenever it really counts!
The second concentration mistake commonly made by athletes which generates nerves is paying too much attention to the opponent. If you’re too focused on the size, strength, talent or reputation of the competition or the need to beat them, then you will send your pre-game nerves through the roof. Instead, you must discipline yourself to keep your focus on YOU and your job! Play your own game, stay centered in order to remain calm before and during your performance.
#2. Keep your pre-game/pre-performance ritual the same – One of the things that will consistently “bind anxiety” or keep you calm is if you rely on a consistent pre-performance ritual. Make sure that regardless of the importance of a game, you continue to approach it the very same way and do the very same things that you usually do before you compete. The familiarity of your ritual will always help you stay calm and comfortable.
#3. Do not allow yourself to dwell on UNCONTROLLABLE FACTORS – Far too many athletes get hung up on the “uncontrollables” right before and during their performances. Thinking about and focusing on things that you have no direct control over will make you nervous, undermine your confidence and sabotage your game. Instead, try to keep your thoughts and focus on only those things that you can directly control. Whenever you’re feeling nervous, ask yourself, “do I have direct control over what I’m thinking about right now?” If the answer is, “NO!” then try to switch your thoughts and focus to something that you can control.
#4. Along these same lines, keep in mind that THE PROBLEM IS NEVER THE PROBLEM, THE PROBLEM IS HOW YOU REACT TO THE PROBLEM – Getting nervous right before a big competition is not so much a problem. How you react to your nervousness is! Many athletes notice their pre-game signs of nerves and then react to them by freaking out! “Oh my god! I’m nervous! I shouldn’t be so nervous, I’ll never be able to do well if I’m nervous, etc.” When you feel pre-game jitters or when anything unexpected happens to you, try to remember, the real problem lies in how you react to these things, rather than the things themselves. Accept these pre-game jitters as normal and a sign that you’re getting ready to perform at your best.
#5. Slow and deepen your breathing – Whenever you’re feeling stressed in the hours or minutes leading up to a big game, immediately switch your focus of concentration to your breathing. Deliberately try to slow and deepen your breathing. Whenever intrusive thoughts about the upcoming contest butt in, quickly return your focus to the feel and rhythm of your breath. This technique will be far more effective for you if you regularly practice it every night for 3-4 minutes right before you fall off to sleep.
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistantly underachieving, call me today. I can help!
Contact Me or Call: 413-549-1085