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Conquering the Clutch: How Athletes Can Tame Sport Performance Anxiety

The butterflies in your stomach. The tremor in your hands. The mind racing a million miles an hour. These are the hallmarks of performance anxiety, a common foe faced by athletes of all levels. But fear not, fellow competitors, for even the most decorated Olympians have grappled with this mental hurdle. The good news? Performance anxiety is not an unscalable wall; it's a hurdle you can learn to jump over with the right approaches and strategies.

Athlete sweating and feeling anxious
Thoughts & emotions may impact how you react to your competition. Be aware of how you feel and think can help with managing performance anxiety

Here, we will delve into the process of managing the anxiety. 1. Understanding the Beast

Performance anxiety stems from a heightened stress response in high-pressure situations. Our bodies perceive competition as a threat, triggering the release of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. This can lead to physical symptoms like increased heart rate, muscle tension, and sweaty palms, as well as mental effects like negative thoughts and self-doubt. Recognizing these feelings is step number 1 towards mastering the next steps of managing it. Being mindful and aware of the thoughts and emotions you go through can make it easier for you to know how to manage it. 2. Taming the Uncontrollable Beast Performance Anxiety usually comes when there's uncertainty of the future (i.e. results) and/or traumatic events from the past. Thus, this makes our mind wander and unable to focus on things we are able to control, which is what we are supposed to do in a competition. By practicing mindfulness and shifting our locus of control towards the present and controllable elements, we can narrow down our focus on one or two things we want to be better this time around. 3. Lock-In Your Targets

Having understood what you are supposed to focus on, set performance and process goals that are realistic and achievable for this competition. By directing your mind towards your techniques, effort and strategies, you are able to have more controllable elements to concentrate on and this will automatically reduce your performance anxiety.

4. Visualise Your Taming Process & Success Once the targets are locked-in, you can use visualisation to rehearse the process. With ample practice, you will begin to gain confidence and familiarity in your process and routines and therefore, reduce your anxiety.

An athlete engaged in visualisation before gameplay.
Visualisation & guided imagery helps you gain clarity of your routine before going into competition.

5. Soothing the beast Sometimes, even with much preparation, you will still get that annoying and automatic negative thoughts that pops up suddenly in your mind. When this happens, the power of self-talk comes into play. By fostering positive self-talk and cognitive reframing techniques, you are able to conjure soothing words that is much needed to ensure the anxious beast doesn't disrupt your performance. 6. Develop A System With these strategies in hand, it is also essential to have a pre-performance routine in place. Incorporating these mental strategies into your preparation routine helps you gain a sense of control and consistency. With that, you are all-set for success even before you start the game. 7. SOS when Needed Remember that you will not be alone in this. Seek support from others, like your coach or sports psychologist if you need to sharpen your tools in taming the anxious beast. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help, but a strength and commitment towards your athletic journey.

Sport psychologist speaking to the athlete after competition.
Taking your space and time to talk to a sport psychologist helps you regulate your thoughts and emotions and thus reduce your performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety is a normal part of the competitive experience. By understanding its roots and employing effective coping strategies, you can transform it from a debilitating foe into a manageable motivator. So, step onto that field, court, or track with your head held high and your mind focused. You've got this!

Ready to ditch the performance jitters and unleash your inner champion? Check-in with us on how you can take steps in regaining control of your mental game and fulfill your potential! Click here if you are all-in!


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