Performing in front of an audience for a game you’ve been rigorously practising for can be challenging. Almost every athlete feels this pre-game anxiety at some point in their career. Performance anxiety, sometimes also called choking, is normal and justifiable as anyone can feel overwhelmed or anxious just before their big day. But if left unchecked, this anxiety can impact the performance of the athletes and the overall game.
Many studies have proved that constant fear or anxiety before and during games can lead to compromised performance. Therefore, staying calm before a game or any important event is highly stressed as it increases the chances of better performance. However, there are many tips and ways that you can follow to keep your anxiety under check if your big day is just around the corner.
Get professional help
Psychological factors play a significant role in the overall performance of the athletes, and therefore, they should never be neglected. Talking to a therapist can help your case if you are struggling with performance anxiety. That’s why all athletes should always have access to a sports psychologist, as they can help them understand and conquer pre-game fears and pressure. A sports psychologist mainly looks at the correlation between physical activity and mental or emotional well-being.
With increasing awareness about mental health and its impacts on physical performance, the demand for sports psychologists is also increasing. Sports psychology graduate programs are getting advanced with every passing day and mainly deal with enhancing athletic performance by focusing on different factors. Such psychologists can help athletes understand and work on controlling their pre-game anxieties.
Understand your anxiety
To overcome a fear or anxiety, it is crucial that you first know where it is coming from and how it is translating itself into your body. Many reasons can trigger performance anxiety or choking in athletes, such as solely focusing on the result of the game, past failure or bad experiences, high expectations from the team and audience, low self-confidence, taking too much pressure, poor physical health, and nutrition, or over-training et cetera.
Performance anxiety, stemming from any or all the reasons mentioned above, can show physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, extreme sweating, dizziness, muscle pain, high heart rate, frustration, lack of focus, and many more. If you know what is troubling you, it will be easier to get past it.
Make a proper game plan
One of the most crucial elements of sports is punctuality and consistency. The overall routine that an athlete follows while preparing for the game-day shows seriousness and dedication. If you have worked hard and in a well-planned manner, then there is no need for you to worry. Preparation and practice are the only things you should focus on throughout the pre-game period. The knowledge that you have given proper time and energy to improve your performance will keep you relaxed before and during the game.
Though no matter how much hard work you put in, feeling anxious before the big event is highly common. The pressure and expectations from the coach, other team members, and the audience can become overwhelming for even the most skilled athletes. However, overcoming the performance stress is imperative and deep breathing always helps in this case. Taking slow, deep breaths from your stomach or core can help your nervous system calm down. Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to your brain, which leads to a sense of relaxation. It is the best instant solution to cope with performance anxiety or stress, as shown by many studies.
Remember that you have prepared
Channeling positive energy is one of the most workable ways to overcome stress. Our anxieties trick us into believing that we have not done or prepared enough for the challenge ahead and hurt our overall performance. To keep yourself from choking mid-game, you must be calm and stress-free.
Sit down and think about all the hard work you have put in right before your game starts. Think about all the improvements that you have made. Overcome your fear of failure by analyzing your preparedness. Remember that your focus should be solely on performing best to your abilities and not on the result. Your positive attitude will help you cancel out the anxiety and play well.
Physical alertness is also significant in performing well for a game. Body warmup exercises bring excitement and a rush to your body. Activating and realizing your physical strength can help you overcome the fear of failure. Jogging, stretching, butt-kicks, and many other exercises can help you tap your potential. However, try not to get into full extensive workouts before the game as they can drain your energy and make you feel jittery. After all, the purpose is to make you feel calmer and relaxed.
Healthy sleep regime
Lack of sleep can lead to many mental health issues, from feeling overwhelmed at times to falling into a full-scale depression. A healthy sleep regime must keep your nerves under control as it helps you relax and gives you energy for the next day. Maintaining a good diet and sleeping for at least 7 hours should be the top priorities of everyone. An athlete cannot afford a bad sleeping routine as the daily practices can prove tiresome and can take an extensive toll on your health. Ensure you sleep properly throughout your training, especially the night before the big game day. It can help you feel much calmer and more focused.
Being an athlete is not all fun and games. It demands dedication, consistency, hard work, and practice. However, even after putting all the energy and time, the moments right before the game can bring an excruciating fear. Even the pros sometimes feel anxious and stressed out because of the pressures and expectations. If not dealt with, such anxiety can hurt your performance and cause you and your team members the game you have been preparing for so earnestly. Therefore, coping with the pre-game stress is as crucial as preparing for your game.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.