Anxiety is present in competitive sports and in many life events, yet its presence is not always negative. One of the positive consequences of anxiety is an increase in effort and preparation, which can result in an optimal performance. Too much anxiety however can interfere with preparation efforts and result in changes in muscle tension, inefficient activity, difficulty making decisions, negative focus, and ultimately, reduced enjoyment and self-confidence. Since pre-performance stress is a natural occurrence, the goal is to manage this stress so that it enhances your performance.
Strategies and Techniques for Dealing with Pre-Competitive or General Event Anxiety
*Re-examine Your Philosophy of Athletic Participation*
Reviewing your foundational beliefs can help to put your performance in perspective and give a deeper meaning to your reasons for pursuing excellence. Remind yourself of “why” you chose to take on any given endeavor, and the many ways in which you’ve successfully responded to that “why” question.
*Develop a Relaxation Ritual*
Recognize when your thoughts and feelings are creating unwanted tension, and take several mini-relaxation breaks during the day to avoid a big increase in muscle tension. Consider using progressive muscle relaxation to reduce physical anxiety and insomnia in the days before an important event. One effective method is to first tense a muscle group and then relax it, traveling down all muscle groups from head to toe. The contrast between increased tension and relaxation improves awareness of tension and facilitates the relaxation response.
Another relaxation technique is outward focus, which consists of shifting from excessive internal focus to specific events or items on the outside. You may find it difficult to stop worrying, but you can learn to focus on something else for a while. Pre-competition routines can often accomplish this function, as you learn to focus on a specific aspect of a task as a diversion.
*Use Simulation Training in Training/ Practice*
During practice sessions, replicate and incorporate many of the exact conditions that you will face in your upcoming event to help you to adapt to similar conditions on the day of the event.For an athletic event for example, choose to simulate a variety of weather conditions, race hydration, refueling techniques, specific types of terrain, race day pacing, etc.
*Avoid Over-Emotionalizing about the Upcoming Performance*
Take a composed approach to your upcoming event by focusing on things you can control—proper execution of technique, nutrition, pacing and rest, for athletic events, for example. It’s also helpful to establish several goals for the same event; i.e. a time goal range, plus a personal enjoyment goal, plus a learning goal. Having several event day goals can help to avoid the stress associated with focusing solely on winning or performance outcomes. Focus on the “process” of performance and recognize the event setting as an opportunity: to be with teammates for example, to work toward personal goals, to travel or to experience the support of family, friends and coaches while having fun along the way.
*Use Visualization or Mental Rehearsal to Anticipate and Prepare for Competition*
Rather than worrying about what will happen once the event begins, you can picture yourself in various performance situations and consistently rehearse in your mind an effective response to the “what ifs” of performance.
*Use Thought Stopping and Replacement to Develop Pre-Performance Arousal Control*
Create a thought-stopping cue (word/phrase/image) and insert this as soon as you catch yourself saying/feeling negative statements that contribute to anxiety. You can then either immediately replace each negative statement with a more constructive one that will motivate and relax you, or develop a “neutral” thought before you transition from a negative one to a helpful one. Switching to an external focus and using deliberate breathing are some ways to make that transition smoother. Practice this skill until it becomes automatic for you.
*Surround Yourself with a Support Group That Is In Control, Calm, and Confident*
Being around supportive, positive people will provide you with emotional support as your event draws closer. Coaches, family, friends, colleagues and teammates can all provide emotional security, encouragement and reassurance. Remind yourself that it’s OK to have butterflies just as long as they fly in formation!
So, this week, keep this wise quote in mind, and feel your power every day…
“You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose”
~ Indira Gandhi ~
Dedicated CT RACE IN THE PARK Coach