Performance anxiety in sports is far more common than most people think. It affects both the inexperienced and professional athletes and generally occurs when an individual feels overwhelming pressure to nail a certain task.
Commonly known as nervousness, it almost always occurs in the face of competition, leaving sufferers feeling a strong sense of apprehension leading up to and during the match.
It can lead to debilitating anxiety attacks, poor concentration, indecision, loss of confidence, muscular tension, headaches, increased heart rate, excessive sweating and a possible reluctance to continue in the sport if left untreated.
These physical and psychological effects tend to have a negative impact on athletic performance, so it is important to look at ways of managing it. Here, Lysn Sport's Psychologist Shayne Hanks discusses shares some simple tactics to help alleviate the symptoms.
1. Focus on the task at hand
If you focus on results or outcomes it is easy to worry about things going wrong or what other people might think of you. However, if you direct your intention to the process of what is required, you can alleviate a lot of the pressure you might have put on yourself. For example, you might hone in on the key components of the kicking action in football or the throwing action in netball.
2. Use mindfulness tactics
Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. It involves quietening the little voice inside your head that provides a running commentary on all we do. In many cases, anxiety stems from a belief that the future outcome of a situation will be poor and thus have negative consequences (subjectively or objectively). Therefore, activities like meditation and breathing exercises can allow you to focus on what's going on in the now an put an emphasis on your senses (which will be beneficial in the actual competition or when performing).
3. Practice positive self-talk
When we feel under pressure, it is very easy to let unhelpful thoughts control our mind. Build awareness of your self-talk, so you can recognise any negative patterns and swap these for more helpful thoughts and attitudes.
4. Identify your worries
Performance anxiety is caused by worrying about things going wrong so it is important to outline just exactly what it is that you’re concerned about. Because anxiety operates on a range (from low to high) with the higher end of the continuum associated with negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, allowing yourself to be mindful of these can help immensely with managing them.
5. Tailor your training program
Look for opportunities in everything that you do to create performance situations and competitive scenarios so that you can get used to how you react to pressure situations. If you are able to mimic these conditions during training or practice, you will feel more comfortable and confident when it comes to the real situation.