When athletes are asked if they’ve ever felt nervous, frustrated, or stressed out in performance, the answer is nearly always a resounding “YES!” These feelings are not abnormal; in fact, to an extent, they’re a natural part of sport. However, learning to navigate these emotions can help prevent potentially debilitating effects on performance.
Letting go of mistakes
Getting past mistakes is challenging. It’s not uncommon that athletes get trapped in a downward spiral of mistakes, wherein one small error can lead to an entire game bound in frustration. While it’s hard not to let your mistakes get the best of you, the ability to redirect your focus and remain present is what sets elite athletes apart from the rest.
Find your trigger word. It can be anything…a word or phrase that signals it is time to refocus. Trigger words direct attention to what’s to come, rather than dwelling on what’s already happened. Focus. Swing. Drive. These words are action-oriented and provide the athlete with something to do, rather than something not to do (i.e. “Don’t think about your mistake”).
Reducing performance anxiety
When the game is on the line and everything is resting on that final putt, your nerves may feel overwhelming. They make cause you to choke, to lose your focus when it matters most. Smith and colleagues (2007) defined performance anxiety as […] a predisposition to appraise sport situations in which athletic performance can be evaluated as threatening and to respond with state anxiety reactions of varying intensity. There are a variety of techniques at the athlete’s disposal to help manage performance anxiety and optimize performance, both on and off the green.
Preparation and post-performance tools:
- Journaling: what’s going on inside your head? – bring awareness to areas of negativity, stress, or frustration, and ways of making changes
- Relaxation techniques: progressive muscle relaxation, body scans – tune into your body and areas where you may be holding a great deal of stress
“In the moment” tools:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: take a deep breath – slow down the moment and allow your central nervous system to reap the benefits
- Cognitive restructuring: positive self-talk – learn to reframe a potentially stressful situation and remind yourself that you can do this; interpret your nerves as a sign that you’re ready to go rather than as a sign of panic
- Pre-performance routines: repetition – gain a sense of control over the situation
- Imagery: a multisensory recreation of a successful sport experience – put yourself in a “been there, done that” situation, where remembering and imaging success builds confidence and promotes future success.