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Overcoming Performance Anxiety: A Guide for Athletes to Achieve Peak Performance

Performance anxiety is a common challenge faced by athletes across various sports disciplines. The pressure to excel, fear of failure, and intense competition can all contribute to feelings of anxiety, which can negatively impact an athlete's performance. However, with the right strategies and mindset, it is possible to overcome performance anxiety and reach new levels of success. In this blog post, we’ll explore effective techniques and practical tips to help athletes manage and conquer performance anxiety, allowing them to perform at their best when it matters most.




Understanding Performance Anxiety

To defeat the enemy of performance anxiety, you must first understand it. Performance anxiety comes from an uncertainty about the future that could stem from past painful experiences or an anticipated painful future. For example, you may have missed a breakaway last game and now you’re worried about doing so again in your upcoming game. Or, you may be going to a new team for the first time and you’re worried about what others will think of you. Regardless, performance anxiety stems from focusing on things that you can’t control.



man sitting against a wall with his face in his hands

How to Defeat Performance Anxiety

To defeat performance anxiety, the goal is to get to the root of your pain or to address what uncontrollable things you’re worried about and turn it into controllable actions. At Molliteum we follow the simple motto of, “Prepare to let go”; this means getting clear on what’s causing you anxiety, breaking it down into things that you can work on, and preparing yourself so you have no worries going into performances. It’s a simple process of building certainty behind your actions. We follow a simple three-step process to accomplish this: Lock In, Prepare, and Let Go.



Lock In: The Start of The Week

Before the week starts, you want to address the anxiousness that you’re feeling and turn it into controllable skills to work on. Understand what uncontrollable thing(s) you’re focused on, and shift your focus to working on the controllables. For example, pretend that you missed a breakaway last game and now you’re unsure of yourself and it causes you anxiousness (uncontrollable pain you’re avoiding).


To defeat this, you simply want to ask yourself what one or two skills go into you being able to score in your upcoming performance. You might discover this to be getting to the right scoring areas and bettering your shot. Therefore, your target for the week now becomes mastering your ability to do these two things well.


Setting realistic and achievable goals is vital for athletes to maintain confidence and minimize anxiety. Focus on process-oriented goals rather than solely outcome-based ones. By directing attention towards controllable factors, such as technique, effort, and strategy, you can feel a sense of accomplishment regardless of the ultimate result, leading to reduced anxiety.



baseball player throwing a pitch

Prepare: Put Your Reps in During the Week

Now that you have your target in place, you can prepare to let go by building your certainty, and confidence, behind the skills you’ve isolated. This comes from using both physical and mental repetitions to prepare yourself physically and mentally.


Visualization techniques are powerful tools for managing anxiety and enhancing performance. Athletes can visualize themselves performing successfully, imagining every detail, including sights, sounds, and emotions. This mental rehearsal helps build confidence, familiarizes the mind with the desired outcome, and reduces anxiety by creating a sense of preparedness.


During this time, you also want to optimize your energy and overall well-being. Physical and emotional well-being play a crucial role in managing anxiety. Adequate sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet contribute to overall stress reduction. Using relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or journaling can help athletes manage their emotions, cultivate self-awareness, and build resilience against anxiety.



Let Go: Have a Pre-Performance System on Game Day

The last step to this all is to let go and perform; athletes can do this through a consistent pre-competition routine, or what we refer to as a Pre-Performance System - which is crucial for managing anxiety. A system can help you create a sense of familiarity and control, which can alleviate nervousness. Include activities such as visualization exercises, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation to help calm the mind and body before a competition.


Adding in mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing or grounding techniques, helps anchor athletes in the present moment, reducing anxiety and improving concentration.


During performances you want to stay present, and focused, in the moment through a laser focus. This means selecting an action to remain focused on with intentions behind them. From the previous example, this would mean remaining focused on getting to the net and shooting to score. This becomes your main focus for the rest of your performance and the simple goal is to do this one rep at a time.


You can also have a key phrase that allows you to remain locked in during performances. The words we tell ourselves greatly influence our mindset and performance. Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. By repeating phrases like “I am ready to dominate,” or “I am going to succeed," athletes can boost their confidence, calm anxiety, and reinforce a positive mental state.



Conclusion

Performance anxiety is a common obstacle faced by athletes, but it doesn't have to be a hindrance to success. By implementing the strategies discussed in this blog post, you can learn to manage your anxiety effectively and perform at your best. We’ve helped multiple athletes create a blueprint to overcoming their anxiety; for a complimentary consultation call to see how we can help you do the same click here.


Stay resilient.


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