Do you ever get nervous before a big race or competition? If so, you are in the majority! Even the top athletes in the world get worried before their big races. For example, the night before Michal Phelps’s first Olympic games, he did not sleep well because his mind was actively focused on the upcoming meet. Pre-race or pre-set jitters are a normal emotion. The good news is that the added adrenaline may actually be beneficial for your performance! If you get nervous before your big race, it means you care about the outcome, which is a good thing. This may increase your potential as an athlete as it allows you to maximize your focus and boost your energy. This being said, there is a fine line between getting a little nervous and allowing anxiety get the best of you. It’s important that you know how to control your anticipation, so you don’t psych yourself out. If you get overly nervous, you are putting yourself in jeopardy for a disastrous outcome. To ensure this does not happen to you, let’s consider five ways to psych yourself up without psyching yourself out.
You start to feel that sickening feeling in your stomach, your legs begin to shake, your palms are sweaty and you wish you would have used the bathroom one last time. What is the first thought that goes through your head when you recognize all of these signs of nervousness? For most athletes, it is something like “oh no, I’m not ready!” or “I feel like crap, so I can’t do this.” Thoughts like these then perpetuate the nerves and causes more of the physical symptoms of nervousness to occur. Now you are nervous about feeling nervous and it becomes a downward spiral! However, did you know that all of those signs of nervousness are actually our body’s’ way of preparing us to perform at a high level? Sweating is your body’s natural air conditioning system. We feel butterflies in our stomach because our body is pulling blood away from our digestive system, so it can better supply our muscles. We feel the urge to go bathroom to rid our body of any excess weight and to stop energy from being wasted on digestion. We feel shaky because of the adrenaline surging through the body. We may breathe quicker or feel our heart racing, which is providing more oxygen and blood to the rest of the body. So, when you feel the physical signs of nervousness, instead of interpreting that as something bad and a sign that you are not ready, try thinking of it as a good thing. Say to yourself “this is my body’s way of getting ready to perform at the highest level!” The simple act of reinterpreting your nerves tends to calm you down and lessen the anxiety.
As an athlete, you are essentially in control of your own actions. For example, you control what you put into your body on race day. You control how you interact with your competitors or training partners. Most importantly, you control how you think about every situation! However, there are always going to be many things you cannot control. You cannot control the weather on competition day or quality of the event conditions. Remember, if it is raining outside, you are not the only participant that has to deal with the far from ideal conditions. You cannot control other people such as competitors, fans, judges or referees. You can’t control if your biggest rival has a great race or bombs. You can’t control if the ref makes a bad call. You can’t control if the fans purposely try to distract you or throw you off your game. You simply need to focus on yourself and your own performance. What do you need to do to be successful? Focus on the things you can control and don’t worry about the things you can’t. By controlling the controllables and deciding not to pour energy on those things you can’t control, unnecessary anxiety will be eliminated.
Remember the old saying: “Seeing is believing?” Before your big event begins, you need to believe you can be successful. This all starts up in your head. Many of the top athletes in the word use visualization as a technique to calm their nerves. Before the World Championships marathon in 1993, Mark Plaatjes extensively practiced visualization techniques while preparing for his race, so much so that he knew every undulation on the course. He said that he felt totally confident about how he would perform because he had already visualized a successful race in his mind. If you enter the race or event feeling confident, you are less likely to be excessively nervous. If the physical training is there, you need to make sure you keep up on the mental training side. If the two are synched, you’re setting yourself up to be a star on competition day! Check out this blog post for more information on visualization.
4. Use positive self-talk
If you are feeling anxious before an event, try using positive self-talk to help subside your nerves. Sports psychologists agree that positive self-talk gives athletes a leg up on their competition. When you feel your heart rate increase, think of your favorite quote or mantra. Make sure that all of the words in the phrase are positive. For example, “Pain is temporary” is actually not the best phrase to use because you may subconsciously associated with the negative word, “pain.” Rather, think, “I am bold” or “Charge ahead.” For instance, Kerri Walsh, two time Olympic gold medalist, told herself, “Breathe, believe, and battle before each match.” Find something that works for you. When your nerves kick in, kick right back at them by the use of positive self-talk. Check out this blog post for more info on how to use positive self-talk to kick the nerves.
5. Be your best. No regrets.
For many athletes, nerves result from an increasing fear of failure. Unfortunately, as an athlete, you cannot be successful 100% of the time, and this is okay. It is simply part of the game. At the end of the day, as long as you try your best, there is nothing to be disappointed about. Even Michael Jordan once said, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Rather than putting so much pressure on your success, just focus on doing the best you can for that particular day. Taryn Sheehan, running coach at University of Louisville, suggests that runners make “good, great and awesome” goals for each race. A “good” goal is something that you may attain each race. For example, giving 100% no matter what happens. A “great” goal may be a personal best or record. The awesome goal is something that is ideal, if everything in the race comes together perfectly. Using this type of goal setting may help ease the nerves and allows an athlete to find success and positives from every race. Take every opportunity, good or bad, to grow as an athlete. When you think about it this, way there is really nothing to be overly anxious about. Relax, have fun, be your best, and at the end of the day, no regrets.
When it comes down to it, most athletes get nervous before their big event. However, you need to know how to separate normal pre-race nervousness from debilitating anxiety. This can be done by: controlling what you can, visualizing, using positive-self talk, and trying your best while having fun. Don’t let that mind of yours take over your body in a bad way. Next time you feel those little butterflies in your stomach before a competition, think about these five tips to help you psych yourself up, not out! Before you know it, the butterflies will fly right away and you will be the one flying down the race track.
Contact us today for more specific strategies and mental training to help you psych yourself up without psyching yourself out!