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Using Sport Psychology To Overcome Performance Anxiety

Updated on March 8, 2013
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

A Guide To Tackling Your Performance Anxiety With Sport Psychology

We all know an athlete who performs well in training. Yet when you put them in a competitive game situation they don't quite have that cutting"edge" to their play. Many sports psychologists would summarise that this person is likely to suffer from performance anxiety and it can have dramatic effects on sporting event performance.

Overcome Performance Anxiety

The right sports psychology approaches can help you overcome performance anxiety
The right sports psychology approaches can help you overcome performance anxiety | Source

Sports Related Sources Of Stress And Anxieties

When assessing the sources of stress and anxiety for an athlete a sports psychologist has thousands of potential stress factors to take into account. All of these will affect an athlete in completely different ways dependant on their personality and interaction s with the environment. These can be broken down into two distinct categories

  1. Situational Sources of Stress
  2. Personal Sources of Stress

Sports Situational and Personal Sources Which Affect Stress Levels

Generally there are two areas of situational sources which can affect your stress levels. These are related to i) importance of a particular event to the athlete and ii) uncertainty of event outcomes.

Regarding the personal sources of sports stress and anxiety there are the key factors of i) trait anxiety, ii) self esteem and iii) personal appearance anxieties.

These factors all work together to form the interactional approach to sports psychology

Signs And Symptoms Of Performance Anxiety In Sport

If you're suffering from sports related performance anxiety there are a number of signs and symptoms that are likely to be evident.

1. Raised Heart Rate due to adrenaline

Have you ever felt like your heart is about to explode within your chest prior to an event or performance. This is due to an increase in adrenaline production within your body. Your body is entering panic mode and subsequently has to respond for your 'fight-or-flight' response. The increase in adrenal;ine above normal levels can also lead to the affected person shaking excessively.

2. Dyspnea (Hyperventilation)

A common symptom associated with performance anxiety in sports is the tendency to hyperventilate. This is medically known as dyspnea and when you're encountering that fear of performance you start to rapidly increase your breathing rate as the body craves oxygen to react.

3. Dizziness and light-headedness

Another common sign of performance anxiety is the tendency to experience feelings of dizziness. This symptom can severely affect your ability to balance as your brain experiences a lack of oxygenated blood-flow. In severe circumstances fainting can occur.

4. Uncontrollable Sweating

The affect of adrenaline is to activate your muscles. This subsequently leads to them dramatically increasing in temperature and the body subsequently sends itself into a state of sweating to react. This is in an attempt for the body to maintain homeostasis. This often leads to anxiety in itself and feelings of discomfort for the competitor.

That Wall Looks Pretty High- Could You Climb It?

Rock climbing can lead to feelings of anxiety in many people due to the heights scaled.
Rock climbing can lead to feelings of anxiety in many people due to the heights scaled. | Source

Other Signs And Symptoms Of Sports Related Anxiety Include

Sports Psychologists will also be looking for some of the below factors to establish if an athlete may be experiencing some form of sports performance anxiety

  • Irregular needs to visit the restroom outside of hydration levels. (Athletes often need to hydrate well before an event which can lead to a natural need to urinate more regularly however)
  • Lots of Negative Self Talk
  • Sleep Difficulties prior to the event
  • Heightened levels of muscle tension
  • Problems with concentration
  • Headaches and feelings of illness.

Tips to Help Reduce Your Performance Anxiety

There are a large number of psychological techniques you can consider to reduce performance anxiety and improve your results.

Be Physically Prepared For Your Event

There's nothing quite like knowing you're performing well. If you're not at full fitness there are always going to be niggling doubts and worries at the back of your mind that could negatively influence you sporting performance.

Make sure you arrive at your race/ event venue in good time to get a great pre-event preparation to get you physically and mentally ready to perform.

Visualise Yourself Doing Well

When you see yourself doing well instead of those inevitable failures you may be thinking about- It can completely change your outlook, demeanour and effectively overcome your sports related performance anxiety.

Think about changing those negative thoughts into positives and how they actually make you feel- doe it change how you feel?

Change Your Negatives Into Positives

The race is going to be a disaster
This race is going to do well. I'm going to do my best
My backhand is a weakness that the opponent will exploit
If i'm playing well I can negate any of my weaknesses
My opponent is looking for ways to trick me into playing a shot
I can use my opponents trickery against them for my personal gain
You can take a negative and with a little deep thought, turn it into a positive through the right psychology

Plan For Your Event

If you have prepared for the variables they can have less impact on your reactions.

If you've watched a video of your college Football opponents and see that the Quarterback tends to throw mainly to his right, you're more able to deal with the circumstances. However if you've planned well for other situations the feeling of increased control is going to help reduce potential for performance anxieties while actually deflecting the pressure onto the other team.

Those volleyball serves in training should mimic those you take in your event. Your team will therefore become accustomed to your style of play and trajectory. As well as becoming aware of what the likely situations for potential return will be.

Get Coaches/ Photographers To Take Photos And Videos Whilst You Train or Compete

Many athletes worry about their body image and how they actually look performing their sport which can in turn lead to performance anxieties.

By getting someone to take photos of your in competitions and taking videos of training (with permission of course) you're able to look back at exactly how you're performing and see for yourself what the audience is seeing themselves. Sometimes your sports performance anxiety is founded on the fact you cannot see exactly how you come across.

Worried about what you look like in action? Get some photos taken

Ever worried what you look like in action? Performance anxiety can be related to your body concept
Ever worried what you look like in action? Performance anxiety can be related to your body concept | Source

Post Event Analysis To Overcome Future Performance Anxiety

After your event condider sitting down on your own, with teammates, a coach or a sports psychologist and consider some of the following factors.

1. Review your race/ event/ competition performance

Establish what you did right and wrong. Concentrate on what happened within the course of the event. Were your actions and behaviors within your control and what could you potentially do differently in future?

2. Implement event-specific scenarios into your training

If you simulate race scenarios during training you're more prepared when they can happen in competition. They say 'practice makes perfect' and it really does help not just physical but our mental preparation.


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