Athletes learning to deal with in-game anxiety.

Hello again to all,

I hope everyone is drying out from the massive rain storm which hit New England last weekend. Sunny, warm days are ahead.

It’s one thing to have the “jitters” before a game. But it’s another thing if these feelings occur during a game or a match to the extent that they interfere with your performance. Typically, these anxious feelings go away once you serve up a big hit, work up a sweat or just “get into the game.” But for many, that’s not the case. And it’s very frustrating because you know you can play better but the anxiety is in the way and you cannot shake it.  If those “jitters” do not go away after getting going, then you may need to help them along.

There is much written about managing anxiety in sports. That’s because it’s a huge factor in competition and it’s one that can really affect an athlete’s performance and confidence. The most important thing for an athlete to do is to get the anxiety down to a manageable level and do this quickly. You want to learn how to manage it as soon as possible because once anxiety begins or you’ve experienced it during a game a few times, it can feed on itself so that the mere thinking that it might occur can actually trigger the anxiety. This is because the mind can actually produce a physical reaction. You may have heard it before and it’s true – the mind can and does “control” the body. It’s also referred to as the mind/body connection. Because they go hand in hand, you have to focus on the mind and body as a team.

So, the approach to reduce anxiety has to involve the mind. Remember, being able to manage the anxiety quickly depends on how well you can train yourself to recognize the anxiety level and how well you can apply the necessary techniques that you have learned. Practicing this is no different than refining your slap-shot in hockey or your bunker shot in golf….practice, practice, practice.

So, what to do? Following the steps below can help you manage the anxiety that interferes with your performance.

  • Keep a log:  In all performance situations, pay attention to when your anxiety goes up to the point where it interferes with you game. Rate how high the anxiety or “jitters” are on a scale of 1-10. Write that number down in your log. Keep the log for a week or two depending on how many games you play.
  • Next: Pay attention to what you are thinking during the time or moments before the anxiety kicks in.  Feelings of anxiety may be experienced as your muscles tightening up, adrenalin levels rising too high or your breathing becoming shallow.  You usually know it. When the anxiety rises, you might not think that thoughts are going through your mind, but they are and it’s important to become aware of these thoughts. Write these down in a log as well as soon as you can. Keep track. You might think you will remember your thoughts, but it’s more accurate and useful to write them down as soon as possible.
  • After a couple of weeks or so (the more data the better), look for some patterns in the data, such as when it occurs.  Does the anxiety occur when you are actually playing and/or does it occur during non-playing times, i.e. sitting on the bench, in the dug-out, between shots, etc.  Then look for patterns in what you are thinking. How would you characterize your thinking?  For example, are you thinking about making a wrong move or a bad play, afraid of screwing up, or fear losing, etc.?
  • Now begin the process of re-thinking these thoughts. Allow yourself to think differently about what you’re saying to yourself.  For example, replace a negative thought with a neutral or positive thought.  Say to yourself something like, “ I will hit my best shot” instead of “I better not hit a bad shot like I did before”.  In response to these different thoughts, your body wlll respond differently. The signals going from the brain to your body are now different so you will feel the difference. Your racing heart will slow down and you’ll be better able to focus and play your game. This may sound simplistic or “too good to be true”, but science and reality prove this to be true.

Engaging in this exercise will eventually pay off. By changing the way you think results in changing how your body responds and ultimately, how you perform in your sport.

Stay tuned for some more “HeadTalk” from the Doc.

If you are interested in discussing your “Head” issue with me, you can contact me here or on my website: www.ProFormance-inc.com.

Use your Head to Stay in the Game.


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