How to Manage Competitive Anxiety in Sports

Eli Straw
How to Manage Competitive Anxiety in Sports

Competitive anxiety involves extreme feelings of nervousness and worry before, during, and after a game. When you experience this as an athlete, it will have a negative impact on your play.

If you are an athlete currently dealing with anxiety in sports, you need to begin taking steps to reduce that anxiety. The reason is not only because anxiety reduces your performance, but also because anxiety can lead to you wanting to quit your sport.

And so, in this article, you will learn a sport psychology strategy you can use to manage competitive anxiety in sports.

What Does Anxiety in Sports Look Like?

When you are an athlete with anxiety, for the most part, you know what it feels like to be anxious. However, it may be difficult to separate anxiety from nerves. And nerves, though still felt, can be helpful.

They can provide you with increased focus and motivation. Anxiety, on the other hand, tends to do nothing but hold you back.

So before going into the strategy you can use to manage competitive anxiety, here are the main characteristics of anxiety in sports.

  • Days leading up to the game you experience a lot of worries. This grows worse the closer you get to game time.
  • As you play, your body can feel out of your control and your mind may seem like it blacks out.
  • The majority of your focus is on what may or may not happen. And you worry about making mistakes more than you think about succeeding.
  • You experience physical symptoms of anxiety while playing, such as shaky hands and legs.
  • After a game you overanalyze your play and worry about what others thought of your performance.
  • During practices you may also get anxious about how you perform or worry about making mistakes and how that will impact your playing time.
  • It’s tough for you to settle into the flow of the game because of your thoughts and worries.
  • You hyper-focus on mistakes during games.
  • During games you feel like you’re holding yourself back. As though you are performing with your foot on the brake.
  • You dread going to practices or games because of how intense the worries and nerves are that you feel.

These are some of the main characteristics of sports performance anxiety. Do any of them sound like something you’ve been experiencing lately?

If so, then it’s time to get to work on managing your anxiety. That way you can reduce these intense feelings of worry and perform confidently and with a feeling of freedom.

Sport Psychology Strategy to Reduce Competitive Anxiety

Managing anxiety takes work. It’s not something that will likely go away on its own. You have to put in consistent effort if you want to perform more confidently.

But the good news is that the work is worth it. Every athlete I’ve worked with who has put in the effort has positively benefited from a reduction in their anxiety. And when anxiety is reduced, performance improves.

The strategy outlined below will help you manage the competitive anxiety you feel as an athlete. But if you’re interested in a more personal approach, click here to learn how mental performance coaching can help.

“Managing anxiety takes work. It’s not something that will likely go away on its own. You have to put in consistent effort if you want to perform more confidently.”

Step 1: Stop Fighting Your Anxiety

If you feel something you know causes you to play badly, what’s a natural reaction to have? To fight it, of course! But here’s the problem with that…fighting your anxiety only makes it worse.

When you fight your anxiety, and by that I mean focus on how much you wish it wasn’t there, you are giving the majority of your attention to the feelings of anxiety. And what you focus on is where your energy will go.

By trying to fight your anxiety, what you’re really doing is inviting it to stay.

So, if you shouldn’t fight your anxiety, what should you do? Well, instead of fighting it, you need to accept it.

Now, this isn’t the most attractive idea, I know. But what happens when you accept your anxiety is that you free yourself to focus on something else. Something that will work to create a different mindset and actually reduce the anxiety you feel.

“By trying to fight your anxiety, what you’re really doing is inviting it to stay.”

Step 2: Change Your Thinking

Competitive anxiety is driven by fears and worries. To manage this kind of anxiety, you need to take control of what you’re thinking about when you play.

Think about a situation when you’re anxious. What are you thinking about and what are you focused on? Are you worried about making a mistake? Are you thinking about how much you don’t want to mess up and embarrass yourself or let your team down?

Those types of thoughts are only going to worsen your anxiety. What you must do is change your thinking.

To help with this, you want to create a self-talk routine. This will be a set of phrases that work to increase your confidence and calm yourself down.

Here are some examples of good self-talk statements:

  • I am a great player.
  • I trust in my training.
  • I’ve got this
  • I can’t wait to show them what I can do.
  • I love to compete.
  • I am a strong and aggressive competitor.
  • I trust in my skills.

Those are very broad statements, and so I encourage you to make yours more sport specific and tailored to yourself.

When you have your statements created, you want to read them to yourself each day. This helps to retrain your mind to think in this new way.

Then, to actually reduce your anxiety during a game, repeat the self-talk statements while you play.

Step 3: Focus on Your Breathing

When you are anxious before a competition, your breathing will likely be very shallow and quick. What you can do to reduce some of the anxiety you feel is to focus on taking deep breaths.

I know this seems like a rather simple solution, but in all honesty, how much attention are you giving to your breathing in a moment when you’re experiencing anxiety?

Probably very little.

By taking deep breaths, you work to slow down your heart rate and calm your thoughts. But here’s where it becomes even more helpful…by focusing on taking deep breaths, you are keeping your focus from fixating on the outcome.

Managing anxiety is all about managing focus. It’s the same principle that applies to using self-talk. By placing your attention on your breath, yes, you calm yourself down, but also you take your attention off of the outcome.

“By taking deep breaths, you work to slow down your heart rate and calm your thoughts.”

Step 4: Focus on a Clear Objective or Cue

The last step goes off the same idea of controlling your focus.

Anxious athletes tend to fixate on outcomes. This is a natural thing to do since sports are judged by the outcome. But you as the player can’t become too worried about outcomes, especially when you’re playing.

What you need to focus on is the process that puts you in the best position to get the outcome or result you want. That’s where setting a clear objective comes into play.

Objectives are targets or cues you can focus on that are 100% within your control.

What you do is set your objective before the game, and then focus solely on that as you begin to play. As you start to think about the outcome, just keep reminding yourself of your objective.

“What you need to focus on is the process that puts you in the best position to get the outcome or result you want.”

The Strategy Put Simply

To make it easy for you to remember, here is the strategy to manage sports anxiety put in a simple formula:

  1. Accept your anxiety.
  2. Repeat positive self-talk.
  3. Take deep breaths and focus on your breathing.
  4. Remind yourself of your objectives going into the game and focus on them.

Mental Coaching to Manage Anxiety in Sports

With the strategy outlined in this article, you are now equipped with the tools you need to better manage your competitive anxiety.

But if you’re looking for a more in-depth and personal approach, then you need one-on-one mental coaching.

With our mental performance coaching program, we will begin by identifying the true causes of your anxiety. Then, we will come up with a custom mental game plan to work on overcoming those causes and developing positive mental skills.

This will take place in a 50-minute, weekly virtual coaching session, followed by action steps you will be given to begin putting the tools into practice.

To learn more about mental coaching and see how you can get started, please fill out the form below.

No matter if you work with me to manage your anxiety or use the strategy on your own, the same principle applies; to reduce anxiety in sports, you must put in the work.

And if you do, you will finally be able to perform freely, confidently, and up to the potential you know you’re capable of.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-317-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

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