What is anxiety in sports and how can it affect your performance? Let's take a peak into the nervous energy that EVERY competitor has. Let me reiterate. EVERYONE has some degree of nerves and anxious thoughts prior to competition, it's how you use those thoughts that makes the difference between a championship performance and a disappointing finish.
The combination of stress and uncertainty provides an experience that can be positive or negative. Some athletes will thrive on the challenge of uncertainty whereas others will be anxious and overly worried. In the latter instance, all manner of doubts and negative thoughts can creep in:
I can’t win.
She’s stronger than me.
I’m going to re-injure myself.
This crowd is huge.
I can't mess up this shot again... can I?
We are massive favourites, we can't lose to this team
This is a real pressure shot.
I can't fight through this, it is too hard
I’m so close to winning this.
An influential theory in sport psychology suggests that athletes’ perceptions of their own ability to control their environment is a major determinant of anxiety levels in sport. If athletes believe they are in control and can meet the challenge ahead, then stress will tend to be facilitative and likely to improve performance. Conversely, if athletes perceive a lack of control over a given situation, then they are more likely to have negative thoughts, become anxious and will tend to perform less well as a result.
Managing anxiety effectively requires consideration of three key components prior to introducing coping strategies: (1) Do I understand what is making me anxious?; (2) Do I recognize how anxiety manifests in my brain and body – what it looks and feels like for me?; and (3) Do I take responsibility for the fact that I have the ability to control it?
What can you, and your coach do to help improve your chances at turning nervous energy into a positive experience? I am going to give you one approach that can help you and cover additional approaches in depth in subsequent posts.
Brief Solution-Focused Therapy (BSFT) is a goal-oriented approach that focuses on what athletes want to achieve rather than the problems they face, and on the present and the future rather than the past.
In BSFT there are four distinct phases. These are the problem-description phase, the developing a positive goal phase, the exception-seeking phase, and the feedback phase. Pretty straight forward here: identify what is making you nervous, create positive goals (see my past posts on goal setting), exception - seeking (do you need to jacked up or laser focused?), and how am I doing, where can I improve?
In the next post we will cover Imagery Training, Facial Analysis and Progressive Muscular Relaxation.
Until then - stay calm and realize your anxiety is not all bad.