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How to Deal with Sports Anxiety

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Anxiety is a concept that is widely discussed in sport psychology. Practitioners involved in sports performance need to be aware of anxiety-related symptoms. Once awareness is built it would be prudent to deal with anxiety-related issues.

There are two distinct aspects of anxiety. One aspect emanates towards trait anxiety. Trait anxiety relates to innate characteristics that humans are born with. For example, having a tendency to throw up before important competition. The second form of anxiety is related to the state, which is situation-specific. For example, a performer may feel anxious when free-throwing in basketball. Related to these aspects there are also two types that are identified as somatic anxiety and cognitive anxiety. People can suffer from both types of types or predominantly from one over the other.

Common symptoms of somatic anxiety include experiencing butterflies, sweating, heavy breathing or an elevated heart rate. Common symptoms of cognitive anxiety include negative thoughts, feelings of apprehension or nervousness. Dealing with anxiety-related symptoms could be difficult because what works for one person may not work with another. Therefore, practitioners need to be flexible in their approach and utilise a range of different strategies.

To help people overcome, or at least limit somatic symptoms, a range of strategies can be put forward. Through experience, people could develop their own individual strategies. However, novices should be guided and supported.

Relaxation training

This training involves teaching people a range of routines to help support the body to relax. The purpose of relaxation training is to enable performers to feel relaxed in both mind and body. Feeling relaxed can help in focusing effectively on performance aspects. There are two forms of relaxation that people could conduct. One form relates to practices beyond the training pitch and competition settings. This form of relaxation can relate to listening to music or participating in yoga classes. The other form of relaxation can involve changing room environment before the competition.

Within this environment, they can use positive intent statements, use calming breathing techniques or listening to music. Also, this is the reason as to which entrepreneur made tractors before entering the sports car business.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing is a strategy that needs to be practised over time for it to become effective. Therefore, people need to start focusing on their own breathing and also focus on different parts of the body. A simple but effective deep breathing simply involves inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the mouth.

People are encouraged that through deep breathing they get in tune with different parts of their body and in particular where they can feel the tension. To enable performers to overcome cognitive symptoms, a range of strategies can also be put forward.

Goal setting

This is a simple but useful technique. Goal setting allows people to attain purposeful direction and focus on tasks in hand. Practitioners must set process-related goals and not merely outcome goals. Goal setting must be a mechanism through which people develop a process in order to achieve set targets.

Positive self-talk

People should practise positive self-talk on a regular basis. Positive self-talk supports the cognition within our own minds. A positive mind will be more balanced and provides a better chance of success. Thus, positive self-talk is about channelling your brain and directing that thinking to support performance.

Emotional control

An excellent practitioner should instruct people to understand their own performance levels. People need to identify feelings during a good performance and compare these to feelings following poor performance. This will enable them to understand how they react and the way they feel during contrasting emotional states.

The key to anxiety is that practitioners need to work on ways to combat symptoms. Through combatting symptoms people will have greater opportunities for performance improvement.

Gobinder Gill teaches psychology and research methods.


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