Why Do I Freeze Up During My Performances?

Don’t think, just play. What a dream this is for all athletes and performers. In the midst of a competition, you are absent of thought, becoming one with the activity you are performing.

But what happens when the thoughts in your head can’t be controlled? What can you do if instead of allowing your talents to take over, you freeze up? Worries and fears flood your mind, all fixated on one concern: failing.

What Does it Mean to Freeze Up?

Have you experienced the feeling of freezing up? It’s when you’re stuck in your tracks, unable to perform freely. You may be a speaker and you can’t seem to get words to form, a soccer player who won’t shoot on goal, or a baseball player who simply freezes up at the plate.

A great example of freezing up in the middle of competition comes from a high school basketball player I was working with. The frustration he is feeling truly highlights how impactful this type of behavior is.

He expressed to me how he trains relentlessly, putting up two-hundred shots a day. That type of repetition is amazing and crucial to building mastery and gaining confidence. Though, there is one major problem. In the games, he can’t shoot.

The young man freezes up whenever he gets the ball. In his words, “It’s not even that I’m performing poorly, I’m not performing at all.” How frustrating! You put in all that effort to train your skills, but when it comes time to show off your talents, your mind inhibits you from doing so.

I experienced this myself on quite a few occasions. Stepping into the batter’s box, my mind, at times, would be full of clutter. Concerns and fears swimming around, clouding the freedom I needed to perform naturally.

In these instances, I would freeze up on even the most perfect pitches. I can remember taking a pitch right down the middle, stepping out of the box, and thinking, “What am I doing, why didn’t I swing at that?”

It makes no logical sense why we freeze up. As an athlete or performer, competition time is supposed to be your moment to shine, allowing your hard work to be rewarded and showcasing your talents. But that’s not possible when an uncontrollable mind takes over.

Why do we freeze up? What is it about performances that lead to us becoming unable to execute freely?

Why You Freeze Up During Competition

There are a few reasons that can be attributed to freezing up during competition. As you will learn, all of these have to do with focus.

Your attention, meaning what you are thinking about, will have a direct influence on whether you’re able to perform freely or become like a statue.  

If your goal is to eliminate this behavior and develop a natural fluidity in your performances, identifying what’s causing you to freeze up is the first step.

Reason #1: Fear

Fear is really the basis for the other three reasons and is a powerful one all on its own. What is it about fear that keeps you from playing naturally? Well, it will be the fear of making a mistake, better known as the fear of failure.

Fear of failure is developed out of a perceived negative consequence that may happen if you are to fail. This consequence can be different for everyone. You may be scared of failing due to how your parents will react.

While someone else may be fearful of messing up out of the negative emotions they themselves will feel. Fear is a powerful emotion. Once it is engrained, playing loose becomes a difficulty. Your mind is consumed by the thought of not failing.

Our attention is powerful and contributes largely to our actions. If you are fearful of failing, what do you think you’ll be focusing on? That’s right, not failing!

This may seem like a good way to think since you don’t want to fail. However, in actuality, all your doing is filling your mind up with the possibility of failure. Everywhere you look there will be another chance or moment in which you could fail.

Your mind fears failing, yet all you see are opportunities to fail. Now, you begin to become frozen in the moment, desperately trying not to fail.

Reason #2: Anxiety

Anxiety is the number one reaction to fear. Once you begin to fear a situation, in this case messing up in your performance, you grow anxious whenever that situation draws near.

With anxiety, the real cause for trouble comes in the form of thought. Worrisome thoughts fill your head, each one going over a different scenario in which you may fail. Once again, you begin to see failure at every turn.

Instead of focusing on the task at hand, your mind is consumed with distracting ideas and images, leading to paralysis in the moment.

On top of that, the physical symptoms anxiety generates can also lead to you freezing up. Your hands and knees may shake, or you become dizzy.

The worry and fret stemming from anxiety make playing freely a challenge and freezing up an easy option.

Reason #3: Perfectionism

What does it mean for you to be perfect? If you haven’t identified that for yourself, yet you are still aiming for perfection, you’re in for some serious trouble. Even if you do decide what perfection will be, it’s not really perfection.

That’s because being perfect in sports and life is not possible. Each time you get close to what you believe is perfection, something new will shine through which leads to you feeling less perfect than you thought.

When you have this desire within to be perfect, mistakes become something to fear. Instead of learning through your shortcomings, you become terrified of not being perfect. One of the main reasons for this is the negative self-talk perfectionism causes.

Self-deprecation becomes a norm for a perfectionist. You constantly are telling yourself how much of a failure you are and identifying areas you fell short. The negative emotions these lead to make failing an even larger threat.

Now you begin to freeze up. You’re unable to perform freely out of the need to be perfect. What’s worse is when you feel perfect during a game. I would experience this if I was 2-2, for example, in a game.

If my first two at-bats had gone well, I was that much more likely to freeze up on the third. This was due to my desire for perfection. Instead of riding the confidence of the previous two hits, I began to fear getting out as that would ruin the success I’d had that day.

Reason #4: Self-Doubt

A key component to playing freely and naturally is self-confidence. You have to have that belief in yourself and your skills that you will succeed. The absence of which results in rigid movements, where you seek to force success.

Even if you are the most talented individual, self-doubt will always keep you from performing your best. Having the skills must be accompanied by the BELIEF you have the skills. Lacking this confidence will always be a hindrance to your play.

What happens when you doubt yourself? Well, you begin to second guess your decisions and hesitate in the moment. So much of sports is performed free from thought. Your movements become natural and effortless.

Yet, when you doubt yourself, terribly unhelpful thoughts are present right at the moment you least need them. A basketball player, for example, will freeze up when she is open for a shot.

What should have been a quick catch and shoot turns into a hesitation due to self-doubt. This little balk allows a defender to close in and she is no longer open. Allow this to happen enough and there won’t be any good shots taken.

Even if she does shoot at this point, her odds of making it go down. Missing will only result in more doubt and higher chances of freezing up in the future.

"Even if you are the most talented individual, self-doubt will always keep you from performing your best. Having the skills must be accompanied by the BELIEF you have the skills. Lacking this confidence will always be a hindrance to your play."

How to Stop Yourself From Freezing

You’re in the middle of a game, you get the ball, and you freeze. What can be done about this? How can you make the shift from being a timid player who stiffens up like a statue to a confident performer, playing naturally and free?

The truth is, it will take time. You must retrain yourself to trust in your abilities. Right now, there is something holding you back. Whether it be fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. Whatever it may be, it’s there.

Your job right now is to identify what it is that’s keeping you from performing confidently and work to overcome that block.

Step #1: Locate the Cause

The process is going to start with why.

Why are you freezing up during competition? Do you also freeze during practice, or is it only when the pressure’s on?

When identifying the reason for your inability to perform naturally, look over the four causes of freezing up I outlined earlier. Which one resonates the most with you?

In some instances, you may display more than one. That’s okay. It just means you will need to work on multiple areas. I always recommend writing whenever performing introspective work. It allows for the thoughts you come up with to be recorded on paper.

To help with the process, begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • At what points am I freezing up?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Do I freeze up in practice?
  • Is there someone I am afraid to perform poorly in front of?
  • Do I have trust in my skills?
  • Is there a physical aspect of my game that needs work?
  • Am I putting too much pressure on myself to be perfect?

Going through these questions will help to discover what mental blocks can be pointed to as causing you to freeze up in the midst of a game.

Step 2: Attack the Cause

Alright, so step two is going to be a whole bunch of different techniques rolled into one. It will all depend upon which of the causes you identified. For each one, different steps will be taken to build your mindset with respect to that block.

This is where consistency and time come into play. Beautifully, you will notice a change in your mind as soon as beginning to incorporate mental training. However, if you want lasting change, you must be sure to continue to train your mind with respect to your weaknesses.

I am going to give a brief description as to how you can build your mind when it comes to each of the causes. I will also link to another, more in-depth article on the subject if you want more of a detailed explanation.

Fear of Failure

If you want to manage fear in a positive way, you have to learn how to see it in a different light. Right now, failure is seen as a threat to who you are and your reputation. Otherwise, it would not be causing you to freeze up.

So, how can you change your perception of failure? First, you have to accept your fear. Next, you want to figure out what you are afraid of. Is it the shame you may feel? Are you worried about messing up your future plans? Or are you concerned you may cause someone else stress?

After these two steps, you want to begin utilizing mental training techniques. These include:

  • Self-Talk: Use positive affirmations to reframe the way you speak to yourself.
  • Visualization: Use mental imagery to see yourself succeed.
  • Mindfulness: Train your mind through mindfulness to be centered in the moment.
  • Goal Setting: Set small goals for yourself to build that confidence within.

Read the full article on fear of failure here.

Anxiety

Anxiety occurs out of fearing something will not go the way you want. In terms of freezing up, you have grown to become anxious about failing. Now, you have to change that by building up the belief in yourself that you can succeed.

Just as with fear of failure, the first step is acceptance. You have to accept your anxiety, not try and fight it. The more you resist, the harder it will be to move forward. First, accept the anxious thoughts, now you’ll be in a wonderful position to make a change.

Next, focus on preparation. Be sure you are truly as prepared as possible. This goes beyond physical preparation too. You must ensure you’ve done all you can both physically and mentally to be ready to perform.

Step three is to use visualization. You want to see yourself succeeding within your performance. Also, use visualization to train yourself to be relaxed in anxious environments.

Lastly, let go of expectations. Anxiety is caused by forward-thinking. The more you can let go of the outcome, the less anxiety will affect you.

Read the full article on anxiety here.

Perfectionism

Of course, we all want to be perfect. But, holding onto this mindset can really have a negative impact on your performance. Once you begin to allow perfectionism into your mind, freezing up is a safety mechanism so you don’t fall short of the perfection you desire.

As a perfectionist, your favorite pastime is to focus on all the areas you messed up. To counteract this, you need to begin giving attention to the positive aspects of yourself and your performance.

Next, you want to alter your self-talk. Figure out what you are saying to yourself before, during, and after a game. Then, come up with a list of alternatives and repeat them to yourself on a daily basis.

Lastly, you must learn to enjoy the process. This means the process during a game, as well as the process of training. Love the ups and the downs. It’s all a part of your sport and life. The more you begin to enjoy the process, the less outcome-oriented you will be.

Read the full article on perfectionism here.

"Love the ups and the downs. It’s all a part of your sport and life. The more you begin to enjoy the process, the less outcome-oriented you will be."

Self-Doubt

The last cause is self-doubt. Now, if you want to overcome self-doubt, what must you do? Build self-confidence!

Begin by using more confident body language. This is a change you can make immediately. How are you holding your body during a game? What about before it starts or afterwards? By projecting confidence, you will begin to feel more confident.

Step two is to alter your self-talk. Are you starting to see a pattern? Your internal dialogue plays an integral role in all of these causes. So, once again, identify any negative thoughts and counteract them with positive affirmations.

Step three is to practice self-acceptance. It may sound stupid, but hear me out. We cannot improve from a place of discontent. How can you expect to have trust in your skills if you do not accept yourself right now?

If you are constantly looking for ways to improve, without first being happy with the skills you currently possess, you’ll continue to doubt your abilities.

The last step is to set small goals. The more you set goals and accomplish them, the higher your confidence will grow. You will see how capable you are and begin to trust in yourself more.

Final Thoughts

Freezing up repeatedly during a performance is incredibly frustrating. After all the work you’ve put in, you don’t understand why you cant perform freely. If this sounds like you, work has to be done.

You first need to identify why you are freezing up? Are you fearful, anxious, being a perfectionist, or doubting yourself? Maybe it’s a mixture of all four. Whatever the cause, you have to understand it before it can be worked through.

Next, implement tools and techniques to overcome the cause. Just knowing the cause will not change a thing if you fail to put the work in to train your brain.

Do you freeze up during competition? Does fear, anxiety, perfectionism, or self-doubt keep you from performing freely?

If so, follow these two steps and build your mind to allow yourself to play freely and naturally.

If right now, freezing up is really causing you trouble, there is a more tailored approach you could take. With one-on-one coaching, we will first identify what is causing you to freeze and then craft a personalized plan to help you.

To learn more about mental performance coaching, click here.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

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

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