What to Do if You're an Athlete With Performance Anxiety
When you’re an athlete with performance anxiety, this isn’t fun at all. You feel tense and anxious when you go to compete and in games you just don’t play as well as you do in practice.
When this occurs, it’s an incredibly frustrating situation to be in. And what can often happen is you begin to dread going to practice and you especially dread games because of your anxiety.
Not only are you not playing well, but sports anxiety sucks all the fun out of your game as well.
So, what can you do?
Well, you need to begin taking steps to overcome anxiety. That way, you can perform confidently during games.
Working as a mental game coach, I see a lot of athletes with performance anxiety. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons athletes come and work with me. So I have a lot of experience with helping athletes overcome their anxiety and perform with confidence.
In this article, I will go over the main cause of performance anxiety in sports and then give you a few tips you can use if you’re an athlete struggling with performance anxiety.
Why Athletes Develop Performance Anxiety
The number one cause of anxiety in athletes is outcome-oriented thinking.
Think about when you’re anxious; what are you focused on? You’re probably thinking about how much you don’t want to make a mistake and you worry about what your coach or teammates are thinking of you.
All of that involves the outcome.
As an athlete with performance anxiety, your thoughts tend to fixate on the future. That’s easy to do, especially since you want to play well, and you want other people to see you as a good player.
The only problem is that doing so causes you to feel anxious, which causes you to play tense, which causes you to underperform.
“The number one cause of anxiety in athletes is outcome-oriented thinking.”
Tips for Athletes With Performance Anxiety
Knowing that when you get anxious you underperform, you need to begin taking steps to manage your anxiety.
Performance anxiety is something that can be reduced through actions taken on your part. That’s what the tips I’m about to outline really help with. But first, it’s important to understand that nothing will be an overnight fix.
When you’re dealing with performance anxiety, you have to work on changing your thoughts and behavior. That takes a lot of effort. And more than just effort, it takes consistent effort.
It’s a process of applying tools that work to reduce your anxiety, and then sticking with them. Don’t get discouraged if your performance anxiety isn’t completely gone in a week. Changing how you think takes time. But what I can say is that if you stick with it, the work you put in will be worth it. And your performances will be all the better as a result.
“When you’re dealing with performance anxiety, you have to work on changing your thoughts and behavior.”
Tip #1: Stop Focusing on the Fact You’re Anxious
As an athlete with anxiety, the easiest thing to do is focus on the fact you’re anxious.
I was working with a basketball player who was dealing with anxiety. What we came to realize was that he had grown anxious about being anxious. This happened because he began to associate getting anxious with playing badly.
Then, whenever he felt a little bit of anxiety, he would focus on that, which would only make it worse.
So for you, if you are feeling anxiety going into a game or during a game, the last thing you want to do is focus on it. That will only make it worse. Instead, you want to accept the fact that it’s there and then refocus your attention onto something else.
I know accepting your anxiety doesn’t sound like the most attractive of ideas, but it’s one of the most helpful things you can do. Because once you accept that your anxiety is there, you can now do something about it, rather than simply worrying about the fact you’re anxious.
Tip #2: Change Your Thinking
The cause of performance anxiety is outcome-oriented thinking. So, if you want to reduce the anxiety you feel, you need to change what you’re thinking about. The best way you can do this is with a self-talk routine.
When you are feeling anxious, whether it’s before a game, during a game, or even during practice, what kind of thoughts do you have? Do any of them look like this…
- “I hope I don’t mess up.”
- “I can’t make another mistake.”
- “I wonder what coach is thinking?”
- “It’s going to be so embarrassing if I play badly.”
- “I really hope I play well.”
All of those thoughts are only going to make your anxiety worse. What you want to do is take control of what you’re thinking whenever you feel anxious. To do that, it’s best to create a list of statements you would like to say in that situation.
You want these statements to increase your confidence. Because the more confident you feel, the less anxious you will feel.
Here are a few general examples of some good self-talk statements you can use to increase confidence when you’re feeling anxious…
- “I’ve got this.”
- “I know I’m a great player.”
- “I trust in my skills.”
- “I can’t wait to go out there an compete.”
“The cause of performance anxiety is outcome-oriented thinking. So, if you want to reduce the anxiety you feel, you need to change what you’re thinking about.”
Tip #3: Focus on the Process
In addition to changing your thinking by using self-talk statements, you can also change your thinking by focusing more on the process. This helps a lot since focusing on the outcome increases your anxiety.
To focus more on the process, you want to give yourself some clear objectives to stick to. These should be aspects of your game that are part of the process, that will lead to you performing better.
Some examples are focusing on your follow through with basketball, watching the ball into your glove as a baseball player, or driving your knees as a sprinter.
The point of process goals is to keep your focus centered in the present moment. This keeps you from thinking too much about the outcome, which reduces your anxiety. Plus, the more attention you give to the process, the better you will likely play.
Tip #4: Take Deep Breaths
This is probably one you’ve heard before, and for good reason. Whenever you’re anxious, it’s important to take deep breaths. And there are a couple of reasons for this.
Number one, when you take deep breaths, you slow down your heart rate. When you’re anxious, you typically take shallow breaths and your heart races. By slowing down your breath, you calm yourself down physically.
Number two, when you take deep breaths, you also turn your attention onto your breath. That helps to center your focus into the present moment rather than be thinking about the future.
Tip #5: Remember Times When You’ve Succeeded
When you’re anxious, what kind of image do you see in your mind in relation to you as a player?
Meaning, when you think about yourself, do you think more about you messing up or about you playing well?
For the most part, if you’re an athlete with performance anxiety, you will think about you messing up. Then, as you start the game, that’s the picture you hold of yourself.
What you want to do is change that. You want to see yourself playing well in your mind because that will increase your confidence.
A great way to do this is by remembering past successes. Before the game begins, think back to times when you’ve played well recently. Remember how well you did and remember how great it felt to do so.
As you remember these past successes, your confidence will increase. And when your confidence increases, your anxiety decreases.
“Before the game begins, think back to times when you’ve played well recently. Remember how well you did and remember how great it felt to do so.”
Mental Coaching for Athletes With Performance Anxiety
The five tips listed above will help you manage your anxiety as an athlete. But, if you’re looking for a more personalized and in-depth approach, then you need one-on-one mental coaching.
With mental performance coaching, we will work together to identify the main causes of your anxiety. Then, I will put together a plan to help overcome your anxiety by building stronger mental skills.
Mental coaching involves 50-minute weekly virtual coaching sessions, along with action steps for you to follow during the week. It is the most effective way to reduce your performance anxiety as an athlete.
To learn more about mental coaching and see how you can get started, please fill out the form below or schedule a free introductory coaching session.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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