Performance Anxiety

Sometimes, despite having practiced, trained and performed your best in these sessions countless times before, during the actual competition you find the anxiety and pressure to succeed so high that you ‘choke’. This is performance anxiety, and it can be difficult not to take the poor performance to heart. However there are some simple ways you can manage your stress and eventually overcome this anxiety.

Performance anxiety develops when there is too much perceived stress – specifically this state of mind is created and moulded by you and your thoughts and feelings. They way you think about the event is the source of the stress, not the actual event itself. One way to begin to tackle performance anxiety is to try to understand what your fears are: is it a lack of confidence? Fear of failure? Or doubt in your ability. It will be difficult to perform well with a negative mindset like this. But understanding alone is not enough to modify your thoughts. Knowing is not the same as overcoming.

Tackling Performance Anxiety

Using a Coach

Obviously if you use a coach they will be there for you and help you to train and improve. It gives you someone you can depend on who also has your best sporting interests at heart. However, there are aspects to do with the culture of coaching which can sometimes have a negative knock on effect regarding performance anxiety. A coach, although trying to encourage you, is likely to highlight the importance of your sporting event, which will only increase your performance anxiety. Reminding you in the moment how critical it is for you to perform well might actually encourage you to ‘choke’ rather than do well. Obviously use the advice your coach gives you, but bear in mind that the techniques recommended to overcome performance anxiety might contradict some of your coach’s encouragement techniques.

Before the Event

Of course you are going to feel nervous before you compete, this is only a natural feeling. Try not to fight it and instead accept the sensation, this short burst of adrenaline is just your body preparing itself for the task at hand. Don’t misinterpret the feeling for fear and don’t let it overwhelm you, it will subside when you start the competition. The best thing you can do is arrive with plenty of time to prepare yourself beforehand, physically and mentally. A lack of preparation will make you feel rushed and stressed. Warm your body up for the activity, do some stretches to prepare yourself. Make sure you are dressed ready for any conditions which might occur and know the area you are going to be participating in, i.e.: if you are running, know the course, if you are a gymnast familiarise yourself with the floor layout etc. Whilst of course you will need to adjust to the conditions of the competition, try to have a general strategy of how you’re going to win to give yourself a focus as you participate.

Psychologically you need to think: success. Keep yourself calm and before you start and try to visualise yourself performing well. This will keep your attitude positive and is likely to lead to a greater self belief and so increase your performance.

During the Event

Whilst you are actually participating, this is when you need to focus on what you are doing rather than the outcome. Try to focus all your attention on the moment and avoid letting your mind stray too far from the immediate present – there’s no point thinking about the end of the event now, you need to be paying attention to the action.

Now is the time to ‘centre’ yourself. If you find yourself thinking negatively, or worrying about how you perform then you will be more likely to worry yourself and underperform. If you sense yourself beginning to feel any kind of stress just stop and focus wholly on your breathing. Listening to the rhythm of your breathing will bring you straight back into the present automatically, and you can harness this technique to calm yourself down during an event.

Keep thinking positively as much as you can to keep the negative thoughts at bay. Force yourself to smile, even if it’s only for a few seconds, since this small, split-second gesture will pull your mood up and transform your attitude in a moment. It can help break the cycle of negative thought and might be all you need to relax back into your activity. Try to compete as though you aren’t concerned about the outcome, if you participate in your mind as though you aren’t bothered about winning or losing you will relax and enjoy just taking part in the activity. Don’t attach too much unnecessary weight to your sporting event and instead have fun doing it.

After the Event

Once the event has finished, look back and consider when and how you performed well as well as thoughts which helped you achieve this. You can also acknowledge areas where your performance was hindered but be sure to dismiss these quickly and mostly maintain your focus on how you did well. You need to be paying attention to where you’re going and how you will get there rather than things which will hold you back. Focusing on negatives might lead you to perform negatively and won’t help you improve, whereas positive reinforcement on how you did well will motivate you.

The best way to deal with performance anxiety is to recognise the pattern of negative thought which discourages you, acknowledge these fears and then simply let them go. Pay attention instead to your breathing and play as if you enjoy participating in your sport. Generally speaking you will soon realise that you are just enjoying participating and your performance will be fine.