Anyone who has participated in a sports competition may be aware of the concept of sports anxiety. Often referred to as “choking,” sports anxiety can best be described as the onslaught of nervousness, fear or anxiety capable of interfering with your performance. If you’ve dealt with sports anxiety, your athletic performance may be hindered by perceived stress, which can be both discouraging and frustrating. Anxiety and stress can cause your body to become tense, and athletes dealing with sports anxiety may not be able to perform to the best of their abilities.
Before you can seek a means of managing your sports anxiety, though, you should first determine its source.
What Causes Sports Anxiety?
A variety of factors can contribute to your performance anxiety. If you have social anxiety disorder, you may fear social situations, which can make performance difficult. Perhaps you are frightened of losing control of your body out of exhaustion. You could be as intimidated by success as you are of failure.
People often experience anxiety due to a future element, such as a perceived threat or risk of danger. There are two types of threats that may affect athletes: a threat to personal safety or a threat to one’s ego. If you have sports anxiety, you may fear losing.
Symptoms of sports anxiety can include the following:
- Feelings of apprehension
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Feeling a sense of panic or impending danger
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Tiredness or physical weakness
While it’s not uncommon for everyone to experience one or more of these symptoms from time to time, athletes dealing with anxiety may experience these symptoms frequently and so severely that they carry the potential to negatively impact their performance.
Some athletes are more prone to the effects of sports anxiety than others. Amateur athletes, for instance, are more likely to be effected as levels of self-confidence may play a role in your ability to consistently face competition. If you are confident in your abilities, you are more likely to positively react to the anxiety sometimes associated with competition. Those with high levels of confidence in their athletic performance are more likely to interpret the arousal of competition as a source of excitement rather than stress or anxiety.
Athletes who compete in individual sports are also more likely to experience sports anxiety. This may be due to team morale or the lack thereof. Participants in individual sports face the pressures of competition alone. There is also evidence to suggest that teams playing away from their home courts or fields are more likely experience higher levels of anxiety, which is due to a combination of fan support and unfamiliarity.
What is Sport Psychology?
Sport psychology is an area of psychology intended to prepare athletes’ mental states ahead of competition. Sports psychologists work closely with athletes to aid in managing their performance anxiety.
A number of issues can influence negative athletic performance. Problems with growth or development, strained relationships, academic stress, time management or financial concerns can all play a role in a person’s mental state before competition. It’s the duty of sports psychologists to navigate these negative influences to promote a positive mindset.
What is Mental Skills Training?
In athletics, mental skills refer to an athlete’s internal capabilities to control their minds in an efficient, consistent manner in order to achieve sport-related goals. Mental skills training explores these methods and teaches athletes a variety of techniques to develop skills like concentration and enhanced self-esteem.
Mental skills techniques help athletes alter their actions and thoughts in order to further improve their performance. Mental health skills training can help athletes achieve the following:
- Develop a positive mindset toward competition
- Set goals
- Positively visualize
- Use imagery to hone competitive skills
- Focus attention
- Improve concentration
- Overcome adversity
- Improve error management
Reducing Sports Anxiety Before the Event
Following a routine before, during and after you engage in sports can help you manage instances of sports anxiety. If you feel a surge of anxiety or stress coming on, it’s important to become in tuned with it. Accept your fear-based feelings rather than minimizing them. Be aware that the rush of adrenaline you feel is normal, one of your body’s many natural responses.
Prepare yourself mentally and physically before your event. Arrive early to ensure you are not rushing, which can increase the amount of stress you feel. Once you arrive, stretch, warm up and familiarize yourself with the course or playing field.
Take a few minutes to visualize the task ahead. Breathe, close your eyes and picture yourself doing everything right. Positive thoughts are powerful. Simply changing your attitude can positively impact your performance.
Reducing Sports Anxiety During the Event
It’s important to place your focus on the task rather than the potential outcome. Be present, and avoid thinking about the finish. It’s easy to psych yourself out, but by simply focusing on what is in front of you — rather than what may happen in the future — you can put all of your energy into the here-and-now.
Interrupt an onslaught of negative thoughts by focusing on your breathing. Concentrating on your breathing rhythm will ensure you are in the present.
Perform as if the outcome doesn’t matter. This mindset can help relax you and increase your enjoyment of the sport.
Taking certain steps after your sports event can pave the way for positive experiences in the future. Review your performance, and recognize the aspects in which you did well. Focus on thoughts, actions and behaviors that helped you in your performance. Acknowledge, then dismiss thoughts or actions that negatively affected your performance.
A number of strategies can help you manage your sports anxiety. From breathing exercises to all-natural remedies that promote quick stress relief, there are several ways to alleviate the negative feelings you sometimes may feel when engaging in sports.
Do you get the jitters before participating in sports? What methods do you use to overcome your sports anxiety? Let us know in the comments below.