Sam Maniar, Ph.D.
Every athlete has experienced anxiety before a big performance. Not only is it common, but a moderate level of anxiety can actually be a good thing. For some, though, the nervousness can become overpowering and result in a poor outcome. So how can you make sure that doesn’t happen to you? Here are some tips to get you started.
Practice with Pressure: It’s hard to learn how to perform under pressure in a game if you have never done it in practice. Put pressure on yourself (e.g., burpees if you miss a shot), or run sprints to get your heart rate up and then practice executing a skill.
Slow Down Your Breathing: It’s nearly impossible to feel anxious if your heart rate is beating slowly, and one of the easiest ways to slow your heart rate down is by slowing down your breathing. Breathing can also help to “center” you and bring you back into the present moment (as opposed to the past or future).
Have a Routine: Having a consistent routine (e.g., warm-up, pre-shot, etc.) helps us let go and use a part of our brain, the motor cortex, that helps us perform skills. It also helps to prevent over-thinking.
Visualize in Advance: If you have already performed well in that exact game, you are less likely to feel nervous. By using visualization (imagery) to go through the game in advance, you can trick your mind and body into believing it’s actually happening. For the week leading up to a competition, try taking 5–10 minutes to see yourself succeeding each day.
Have a Growth Mindset: Remember, one of the only ways to get better is to learn from our mistakes. In that way, mistakes are like teachers! If you can see mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow, it will take some of the pressure out of the performance.
Focus on the Controllables: Pressure is often the result of trying to control things over which we have little or no control. Therefore, focus on the process (e.g., attitude, effort, communication, positioning, etc.) instead of outcomes (e.g., winning, scoring, etc.).
Reframe the Anxiety: Did you know that excitement and anxiety are physiologically the same emotion? They feel the same, but the only difference is that we interpret one as positive and one as negative. So the next time your heart starts to speed up, your breathing gets shallow, you feel butterflies in your stomach, or you start to sweat, tell yourself that you are excited.
Have a Plan: Write down the things you’re worried about. Try to use two columns: things you can control and things you can’t. Throw away the things you can’t control, and then come up with a plan for each of the things you can.
Want to learn more? Attend one of SPIRE’s camps and get exposed to our mental training coaches and curriculum!
Dr. Maniar is the Director of Mental Skills Training at SPIRE Institute & Academy and the Founder of the Center for Peak Performance, LLC—a sport psychology and business consulting firm. More information about Dr. Maniar and his work, including his social media handles, can be found on his Linktree.