How to Manage Sports-Related Anxiety

Learn what causes your pre-game anxiety and how to handle it.

At some point in your athletic career, you will experience stress, good or bad. The good stress prepares you, makes you eager to learn more, eager to perform well. The bad stress, called competitive anxiety, makes you want to shy away from the competition.

And you wouldn't understand the feeling because deep down you want to play, but your body is telling you something different. Like the night before when you can't sleep, or the morning of when you can't eat because you're so nervous, or right before the competition when you feel like you have to throw up (or really do throw up). Luckily for you, there are stress management methods to control this.

Competitive anxiety occurs when an athlete has a negative response to specific situations within their sport and views the situation as a threat. For example, instead of an athlete viewing the spectators as just spectators and feeding off of their energy (good or bad), the athlete who fears the spectators and is intimidated by them, experiences competitive anxiety.

Anxiety can be experienced in many different ways including worries, doubts about performance, negative expectations, muscular tension, increased heart rate, dry mouth, butterflies, cold and moist hands and/or perspiration. Although the aforementioned symptoms are created from competitive stressors, that does not mean that they will lead to competitive anxiety. What determines if they are considered a threat to you is how you view the stressor and the symptoms. An athlete can view an increased heart rate as being scared or nervous (competitive anxiety) or they can view it as being prepared to perform.

You want to completely become aware of what your competitive stressors are. Once you identify what the stressors are and what symptoms are involved with the stressors, you can begin working on controlling your anxiety and creating a stress management tool box. When you identify those stressors and symptoms, you can begin to identify what level of activation (from drowsy to alert) leads to your best performance, and the goal is to try to reproduce that level more frequently to become consistent in it.

A simple technique to control anxiety that still requires a lot of practice is an emotion-focused coping strategy. Emotion-focused coping tries to control the emotional responses that come from the issues that are causing the stress. You want to again, become aware of what your thoughts are when you experience the stressors and symptoms; a majority of the times when anxiety presents itself, you are thinking negative. If you take that negative thought and turn it into a positive thought, looking at the stressor as something you have control over, you will begin to control your thoughts. When you couple that with a breathing technique you will be on the right path to overcome your competitive anxiety.

There are plenty of techniques and tools to help you with controlling your competitive anxiety, and with the assistance of a mental skills coach, you will receive the coaching necessary to turn those negative emotional responses into positive responses.


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