Life Sports

Conquering performance anxiety

The common condition occurs in many athletes but can be managed if certain steps are taken.

Despite the perks that come with fame and the rich lifestyle associated with being a popular athlete, stardom is not as simple as it appears. Athletes involved in the highest level of sports are forced to cope with immense pressure and this may sometimes lead to anxiety which can stop athletes from performing at their peak levels. This is a major problem because star athletes are required to perform their best and so much is expected out of them. With this in mind, how are athletes at the highest level of their sport able to cope with performance anxiety?

The Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests that “there’s a direct relationship between performance and arousal. It establishes that high levels of arousal can, up to a certain point, improve an individual’s performance”. If you are confident in your ability, you are more likely to have a positive reaction to the competition and will endure the challenge that the sport imposes. Athletes who are able to channel their performance anxiety and interpret the feeling as excitement, are able to handle their anxiety better. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, is a great example who can illustrate how self-confidence can be used to overcome anxiety. After ending his nine-year spell at Real Madrid, Ronaldo joined Italian soccer giants, Juventus. Ronaldo was struggling to find the back of the net in his first few appearances with the new club and admitted that this made him feel anxious. Regardless of the criticism and speculation that he was not able to adjust to Italian soccer, Ronaldo persevered and scored two goals in his fourth appearance with the club. Ronaldo proved that he was able to rise to the challenge, even though he had been nervous. Ronaldo’s confidence, dedication, and most importantly, his self-belief showed what he is capable of.

After the game, Ronaldo stated: “Football is like that. I was a bit anxious with everything that happened after leaving Real Madrid to come here, but that’s the way life is. It’s human to be like that, sometimes we can’t control our anxiety. But I am happy, I knew that I was working well and that the goals were going to come. I appreciate my teammates, who were helping me as much as they could to adapt to the Italian league.”

Another athlete who recently expressed his coping strategies regarding anxiety is superstar NBA player, Stephen Curry. With the absence of Kevin Durant in the 2019 NBA Finals, Curry was expected to be the star player for the Golden State Warriors. With this expectation aimed toward Curry, it puts him under immense pressure. When asked by ESPN how he is able to manage his stress, Curry responded that he uses a technique suggested to him by his former coach, Keith Smart. The technique is to purposely tense all the muscles in your body, then hold, and release. Curry explains: “You start with every muscle you think you can control in a neutral position, and then when you tighten them, I think your body thinks, well, this is as stressed as your body can be. So when you let all that go, maybe that’s how the endorphins kick in.”

Every player has their own technique or trick that they use to help calm down  Elite athletes are able to keep their composure and not let their nerves get the better of them by using these techniques. This is how players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Stephen Curry thrive under all the pressure put on them. The key to staying calm and composed has almost everything to do with your mindset. If you focus on negative thoughts, you will perceive unnecessary stress and are therefore more likely to fail. Here is a list of methods that will help you cope with anxiety and achieve positive results:

  • Be Prepared: Preparing both mentally and physically is crucial in order to further your success. Therefore eating the right foods before your game, getting enough sleep, and stretching properly can ensure that you are ready to play.
  • Set Goals: Setting goals will help give you direction in the task you are performing, they will help you distinguish between what is important as well as what you should focus on, and most importantly they will provide motivation in order for you to achieve your task
  • Cognitive Restructuring: Cognitive restructuring refers to changing the way that the brain is accustomed to think. Arlin Cunic states that In the circumstance of performance anxiety, “cognitive restructuring helps you evaluate bodily arousal differently — much in the way that elite athletes channel arousal into excitement and the ability to rise to the challenge”. Changing the way you perceive anxiety can definitely aid in the process of coping.
  • Focus On What You Can Control: One of the most important steps in calming down and controlling your sports anxiety is to focus on what you can control. For instance, you cannot control if opposing players are better or worse than you, therefore, focusing on these little infractions will hinder your success. You should focus on what you are able to control, like your own performance and how well you are prepared.

In conclusion performance anxiety is a common condition that everyone has to deal with. Although what makes the difference in terms of success is how you interpret anxiety. If you look at it as excitement and if you believe in yourself, you will overcome it and be stronger in the end. As Stephen Curry said, “I’ve never been afraid of big moments. I get butterflies…I get nervous and anxious, but I think those are all good signs that I am ready for the moment.”

Image: Oleg Dubyna/wikimedia

1 comment on “Conquering performance anxiety

  1. Very interesting article about psychology.


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