Performance anxiety

Nervousness is one of the inevitable part of elite sports and also a natural part of big games and big finals. The feeling of nervousness is something that evokes memories in all of us when we think about it.

As a consumer of sports we always hear about records, victories, new talents and we see all the good match-scenarios and situations of the great sporting achievements.

It is the fewest medias that has a focus on the mental pre-match state that athletes experience before a match. Thus, nervousness and anxiety is and can be hard to deal with and understand for elite athletes.

"Is there something wrong with me?" "Do others also get nervous"

I am often asked what is the best tool or exercises for coping with nervousness.

Mental training is really not about "control-tools" that will have you try to control your thoughts or emotions. It's about developing your mental skills NOT to succumb to your thoughts and feelings when you face e.g. nervousness, adversity and pressure.

Nervousness, Thoughts and Feelings are beyond your control

You do not control what thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations you experience in the match. But you control your actions, attitudes and behaviors - that is, how you act on the emotions and thoughts that arise during a game or match.

When you as an athlete are mentally pressured, two things often happen:

1) You are trying to fight your thoughts and feelings

2) You try to escape from your thoughts and feelings

You will not become a worse athlete either physically, technically or skill-fully just because your first three actions in the match are bad.

But now your inner self is announcing its arrival and here you have the risk of becoming your own worst enemy.

The voice of the devil on the shoulder risks getting louder and louder to eventually fill it all and affect your performance.

Mental strength is that you can stay to your gameplan and not succumb to your inner mental stage.

Does nervousness ever stop?

Most athletes will give everything so that the mental aspect disappears and is not part of their performance - especially if it has developed into a performance anxiety. They believe that without their inner mental stage they would perform better.

One of the most frequent questions I hear is:

“Does it ever go away? Am I getting rid of the nervousness?"

The short answer is no. It does not necessarily go away and it will probably continue to occur to you to some degree. Failure to do so may result in it actually becoming worse in some periods.

It's not the nervousness you're worried about.

It just feels that way, but it's not.

If you want to avoid nervousness or the feelings of being pressured and locked, or avoid working in the risky area outside your comfort zone, then you can just stop bringing yourself into those situations - which, unfortunately, many continue to do.

You can always avoid them, you can just escape from them or the situations that evoke these e.g. nervousness. You can also lower your expectations and you can hide in the crucial situations in the match. You can also choose to play at a lower level so that you do not experience nervousness. But that's not what you want.

What bothers and frustrates you is what nervousness makes you do. So the question should instead be, "Will the discomfort always prevent me from doing my best?"

Here the answer is a clear no. You can learn to deal with nervousness and your competitive emotions. You can learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable as you continue to act and perform your best. You can learn to take your unique competition mindset and unique competition feelings with you - without stopping them from being the best version of you.

These are often negative thoughts, lack of belief in one's own abilities in important battles, inhibitory nervousness under pressure, and the most common of all athletes; what do I do to control or handle the mental aspect in my performance?

Most people turn to a sports psychologist or a mental trainer too late because the mental disorder has disturbed and limited them in performing for a long time.

This article was written as a resume of the mentaltræning podcast episode in danish of anxiety and nervousness by Henrik Hjarsbæk sponsored by Bake My Day

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