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Fitness & Performance

How Athletes Can Conquer Sports Performance Anxiety

Shayamal Vallabhjee – Sports Scientist, Performance Coach and Member, Fitness Advisory Board January 23, 2024

Athletes focus on several variables to make sure they perform at their best: maintaining a nutritious, healthy diet; training regularly; taking the right supplements; and getting enough rest. But performance is not just about being in optimal physical shape; psychological factors play an important role, too.

When you have a game, race or competitive event coming up, you can experience sports performance anxiety. It can come in the form of overexcitement, nervousness or even trepidation, which can interfere with decision-making and performance.

6 Steps to Overcome Sports Performance Anxiety

How do we deal with sports performance anxiety? Here are six proven techniques to ensure you’re in an optimal mental state before your next competitive event:

1.Practice, practice, practice.

Practice makes perfect, whether you’re playing solo or with a team. Nothing will build your confidence and skills like consistent training. A good coach will help you and your team set goals, develop an action plan and ensure you get enough practice, building your confidence before the game or competition.

2. Keep routines in place.

Routine makes us feel comfortable because it’s familiar, and this helps reduce stress levels. In my work with athletes, I ensure that we do not introduce any new variables, such as new equipment or apparel, into our pre-competition routines.

3. Reframe anxiety.

Instead of thinking of anxiety as negative, realize that you are anxious because you have invested a significant amount of energy and time into preparation. Realize that you are prepared beyond every stretch of the imagination.

4. Reduce outside interactions.

In the hours leading up to the competition, restrict interaction with outside individuals to a bare minimum. For the athletes I train, only the most essential team members are allowed in the inner sanctum. This helps them keep focused and relaxed.

5. Channel energy and focus.

Thirty minutes before the competition, try moving into a silent zone. Use visualization, mindfulness and other techniques to channel energy and focus, which will help you keep calm and mentally prepared for the upcoming event.

6. Mimic the energy you want in the competition.

Ten minutes before the competition, gradually make the switch in your energy from calm to enthusiastic. Start building excitement about the competition. Get in the zone: that mental place where you are confident, energetic and ready to give it your best.

The Role of Mindfulness and Meditation

Anxiety can be a distraction, making athletes think about the outcome instead of concentrating on the execution. Through mindfulness and meditation, athletes can focus their energy and awareness on execution, and thus the distraction of the result will melt away.

Both practices help cultivate intentional awareness on a single point of focus and hold it there. It also increases the time between an initial thought or intention and the moment of action. Between thought and action is an entire world of possibility.

A mindful athlete is less likely to suffer from performance anxiety. They have cultivated the art of channeling their energy on execution, and this is the secret to sustained high performance.

Breathwork, meditation, sitting in silence and focusing on a single object are all examples of mindfulness practices that can cultivate this heightened sense of awareness.