Anxiety is a negative emotional response during competition – That feeling of nervousness and fear you experience before a race. This could cause for concern when in high pressure competition and could mean a win or a loss.
Perceived stress by the athlete often increases before the event or on game day because many factors (stressors) affect the way the individuals thinks. They may have an audience or have extremely high expectations of their success for example, adding more pressure to the situation. This thought process would cause anxiety within the athlete as this type of stress is often based upon the way the athlete interprets the situation.
Anxiety symptoms include many mental and physical components; from clammy hands, to forgetfulness and even nausea and vomiting. It is essential for athletes to control anxiety to avoid these limiting factors to their performance.
Ways to reduce anxiety:
There are many ways to control the levels of anxiety experienced by an individual, which would result in improved performance:
Imagery – You can create a mental image to escape the immediate effects of stress. This imagined place is used as a retreat from the stress and pressure of the situation.
Visualisation – This is the process of creating a mental image of what you want to happen or feel. When imagining the scene you can use previous best performances to relate to how you felt at that time and the scenarios would include visual, audio and kinaesthetic senses. This lock onto a “perfect performance” is a way of controlling the performance; reducing anxiety and diverting attention away from the cause.
Thought Stopping – This is the conditioning of the mind to think of alternatives to the anxiety-causing negative thought. This relaxation technique uses a physical or mental action as means of switching your attention into a controlled state, reducing cognitive anxiety
Self-talk – This is probably my favourite. Be positive towards anxiety. It may sound quite silly after understanding the possible symptoms, but this is the best way to stop anxiety negatively affecting you. ARC is what you need to follow – Address the situation and feelings, Rationalise, Change the focus.
In simple terms this means you need to understand how you feel before the competition and change the way you feel about those feelings and the situation. For example, nerves…they inhibit performance right? Wrong! Nervousness isn’t in fact bad and your perception of it can be changed. These nerves mean your body is prepared and that you care about the activity, without them your body and mind is not focussed on the task in hand and you will probably perform to a lower standard. So changing your mind to think positively is the biggest advantage you can have before a competition.
Mental and physical preparation is equally important in sport, and small techniques, like these, must be considered to control and maximise mental readiness.