Pregame nerves and anxiety are your body's way of telling you that what is about to occur is very important to you. If you didn't feel pregame nerves or anxiety, this is called indifference, you would not care about the outcome and regardless of whether you won or lost, it doesn't matter. It's the same in love. It is all biological. It's all about survival.
So when you get the feeling like I hear so many athletes say…"I feel like I'm going to be sick to my stomach." It is a good thing; it means you care.
Every athlete has had this feeling before the competition. Fact.
But some athletes often can't cope. Have you ever been so anxious that you feel physically sick before the game or competition?
Not only does anxiety that is overwhelming pre-competition affect competitive performance, but it can also manifest itself in frequent physical illnesses.
Andrew McLeod a 300+ game Champion who played for The Adelaide Crows Football Club in the Australian Football League, without fail, threw up before every match. He was one of the most consistent performers and is regarded as one of the best Aussie Rules Football Players ever.
Every athlete is different, yet for many athletes, this feeling repeats itself as they carry it into each competition.
The athlete needs to understand the difference between anxiety and nerves.
Unhealthy levels of anxiety can hurt one's performance as it leads to performing tight, brain freeze, tentativeness, and slow decision-making patterns. Moreover, for some athletes, they burn way too much nervous energy even before the competition has started, they play their match to themselves and burn out because they are nervous days before a competition.
They fear what's going to happen. That's anxiety. Some athletes feel that when they are not in control of what's going to happen. This is normal. But it can be dealt with and accordingly managed.
Dealing with overwhelming pre-competition anxiety affects all aspects of your athletic experience. From training, sleep patterns, pregame eating, energy levels, and overall competitive performance, it also has a huge effect on the simple enjoyment of your sport.
Try to stay relaxed and focus on what you can control. This is learned. Book your consultation at athleteiq.com.au. From a sound pre-game routine that works for you, visualization and the benefits of music are vital. Learn what works for you!
Brain MRIs reveal here major patterns of trauma and high levels of cortisol the stress hormone. Stress is a silent assassin in our society, let alone sport.
Rest assured that you are not alone. Even though you maybe feel you are the only athlete experiencing this type of overwhelming pre-competition anxiety, you are not.
Even the champions get nervous. It happens to athletes at every competitive level including Olympic, professional, collegiate, high school and youth athletes.
It’s how you chose the handle it.
Athlete IQ in its mental strengthening consultations walk you through Stress Optimization.
It's extremely important to fundamentally understand how your mind works. How to handle pre-game nerves and anxiety and develop skills to get you in the zone to optimize performance.
For many, whether your experience is as an athlete or a coach, patterns that are evident are frustration and mental exhaustion. Commonly, becoming so disappointed and frustrated with themselves because they trained and practiced at an extremely high level but for some reason, whilst extremely talented seemed incapable of translating those talents and efforts to execute them consistently in competition.
Many athletes look back on their careers and see how pre-performance arousal and anxiety affected their performance. More often than not, bad performances were because of this overwhelming anxiety and not being taught or receiving feedback on how to stay relaxed and in the present.
After a while experiencing this and not getting any change to let alone not even knowing how to change, you question whether it is even worth being an athlete.
What starts as pregame jitters and nerves can quickly turn into full-blown pregame anxiety if you haven't learned how to manage your nerves or the rollercoaster of emotions.
What a shame that you lose because of this instead of simply being beaten by your opponent.
Your job as a professional athlete is to become the best competitor you can be. Know that you can perform with anxiety and nerves. It is your job to find solutions and learn ways to manage anxiety in the face of competition.
Whilst many athletes deal with this state by obtaining the assistance of mental performance coaches to aid them in overcoming anxiety with huge success, many others do not.
They don't invest in themselves. They don't seek answers.
Working with a mental strengthening and or experienced game coach can help you regain control and confidence over that anxiety and assist and support you compete to the best of your abilities.
Developing mental skills that help you flourish and execute with the type of confidence that produces positive and sustained results that generate feelings of worth, pride and personal satisfaction will not only benefit your sport but your general life and overall health and wellness.
In part 2 – we will go through useful techniques and interventions to regulate anxiety levels and ways to cope with pressure, stress and nerves.
Just like my example of Andrew McLeod in Australian Rules Football, the NFL Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks of the Philadelphia Eagles had experienced this high anxiety before games too.
BROOKS: "Before every game, I throw up. I can't stop thinking about letting my team down, letting the world down, the microscope being on me… All of a sudden you're becoming the guy, everyone counting on me, and I've got to make the play every time. In this game, the talent gap is so small, to think like that will eat you up.''
Brooks dared to seek out help and is mentally tougher because of it. He invested in himself and in 2018, Brooks stated that overcoming his anxiety was his biggest victory during that season.
BROOKS: "But the thing that I'm most proud of is, I played all 16 games without having anxiety, without missing a game. That was my biggest goal. I'm more confident in myself than I've ever been. I'm more secure than I've ever been.''
Brooks and McLeod, both elite level sportsmen provide valuable evidence that you can indeed manage your pre-competition anxiety level, through working at it. There is no quick fix.
No matter what the root of the anxiety is, seek help and know that you can perform at a high level again and again.
You CAN regain that joy for your sport and learn to love the game again amid pressure, anxiety, and expectations.
Coping with Pregame Anxiety: Quick tips
· Focus on your pregame warm-up routine.
· Within your routine, use deep breathing, tighten and release,
· Listen to music with noise-cancelling headphones,
· Use calming visualization or meditation. There are mobile apps available
· Avoid thinking about outcomes and the aftermath of the competition.
· Trust the process
· Communicate and talk about things
· Realise that there is no quick fix
· Don't worry about external noise - most worry about negative outcomes and opinions and give oxygen to what others might think of your performance.
· You simply can't care about what others think so chose who you listen to wisely if you want to perform freely without fear.
ATHLETE IQ aimS to debunk the myths of pre- game anxiety. In summary, the athlete at the end of there program understand the following;
1. Normalising and unpacking anxiety
· Everyone experiences anxiety
· Biologically programmed to think negatively
· Human default focuses on the future (result), rather than the present; fear of failure
2. Distinguishing between ‘arousal’ and ‘anxiety’
· The two are related concepts, but not the same
· Anxiety is biological, and serves an important function; emotional/psychological
· Arousal affects coordination, muscle tension, attention (focus)
3. Common (bad) strategies for managing arousal
· Portraying (false) confidence as a means of masking anxiety; appearing confident, but not feeling it; not managing the underlying fear
· Athletes often attempt to suppress negative thoughts
· Athletes can also get too hyped up (i.e. over-aroused); this leads to a lack focus; excess anxiety; and not in a state of flow
4. Proven strategies for managing arousal
· Athletes learn to develop techniques to focus on the present, rather than the future (result);
· trusting your preparation and skillset;
· basic mental imagery techniques
· Basic breathing techniques to increase/reduce arousal
· Reviewing how your pre-game routine is either or not conducive to achieving a flow state?
5. Profiling each athlete in identifying their own personal block
· What negative thoughts do you experience when feeling anxious?
· What is the source of your negative thinking?
· How can we challenge these thoughts?