Performance Anxiety in Sports
The coordinated movement that is required for athletic events becomes tough if your body is in a tense state. Certain amount of worry is okay and can help your performance, but too much of it can induce negative thoughts, affecting your self-confidence. If your performance during practice sessions and competitions displays a significant difference, anxiety may be affecting your performance. Although you may not totally get the better of it, there are many things you can try to reduce anxiety.
The feeling of restlessness and nervousness gradually leading to self-doubt is known as performance anxiety. It is common in stage artists and sportspersons, who are required to present themselves and their skills to a large crowd. It is believed that the pressure of attaining excellence as marked by the audience is one of the greatest triggers that causes a sportsperson to choke.
According to ‘Athletic Insight’, a journal of sports psychology, anxiety can be classified in two ways: trait anxiety and state anxiety. State anxiety is situational stress induced by situations in the game. A sportsperson’s autonomic nervous system is aroused in this state, which is the natural reaction of any individual. On the other hand, trait anxiety can be thought of as a world view that an individual uses when coping with stress.
In sports, individuals who are state anxious and low on the trait anxiety in tough situations, often deliver good performances consistently. On the other hand, athletes who have higher levels of trait anxiety, added with state anxiety, tend to perform below expectations.
Various psychologists have tried to figure out why is it during high tension situations that our brain fails to cope up and leads to a detrimental effect on our performance. Researches have shown that expert athletes behave like amateurs under pressure.
During training and preparing for any competition, an athlete focuses on improving skills in a familiar environment. All the efforts taken and practice done are, thus, stored in the procedural memory. However, in a real competitive setup, the conscious awareness of unfamiliar grounds and the presence of a crowd corrupts the memory of the practiced game. It is also found that with more involved and encouraging crowds, the pressure to achieve the best is accentuated.
A reason for career-ending bout of anxiousness is the perception of pre-game jitters. Our body releases certain hormones to accommodate for the upcoming exciting situation, which induce quickening of the heartbeat and sweaty palms. These signs are often misinterpreted by an athlete as fear and lack of ability to perform. Over thinking a situation and trying to control the practiced movements can trigger and result in a full-fledged panic attack.
While training, some athletes set unrealistic targets for themselves. Failure to achieve those targets is perceived as lack of skill and puts the athlete in self-denial of one’s own improvement. Even if they are fully prepared for an event, they tend to underestimate their capabilities. Such reactions can convert any professional player into a novice, thus, derailing their performance.
With many elite players falling prey to the adverse psychology of pre-game anxiousness, sports authorities and teams have started taking measures to contain the effects to minimum.
For every sportsperson, it is very essential to recognize the jitters felt before, or during the game, and accept that these jitters are absolutely natural. One of the best ways to overcome such a situation is distraction. As soon as you have the awareness of anxiety setting in, distract your attention to something else―may be singing or asking a fellow sportsperson about something that is not related to the game.
A sportsperson whose mind interprets anxiety as a debacle often ends up losing. The dominant and top players of the game convert their anxiety into excitement, which stimulates the positive hormones, resulting in winning performances. They take anxiety arousal as a facilitator to come up with a better performance.
~ Practice, practice, and practice.
~ Cut down on caffeine and sugar. Have a carbohydrate-rich meal before the game to preserve energy.
~ Focus on what you can do rather than what might go wrong on the field.
~ Always try to practice in competition-like settings.
~ Avoid thoughts of self-doubt. Think about your capabilities and strengths.
Experts believe, and it has been proved, that talent and ability can take you only to a certain level in sports. In fact, after you cross a certain threshold of performance, talent becomes almost an ‘useless’ virtue to possess, because it breeds pride, complacency, and hence, ignorance. It is only the hardworking and the most stable minds with only a spark of talent, who rule sports.
Performing to the best of one’s abilities has become more relevant in today’s sport, because of the extensive media exposure. Sports are at the peak of their popularity all throughout the world, cutting across the barriers of richness, or poverty, nationality, race, or religion. In order to sustain the tremendous expectations of the fans and also to maintain a high ranking in the international arena, it is important to perform well. Self-confidence, strong resolve, humility to accept defeat, and experience are the best tools to counter the effects of anxiety. Anxiety is not a disease that a sportsperson can get rid of once and for all. It has to be used as a booster to improve performance so as to achieve sporting glory.