Many athletes have experienced extreme nervousness and anxiety before a big game. To enhance performance and avoid a lackluster start, it’s vital to overcome pre-game nerves. Sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg of Competitive Advantage offers five strategies to help you put the brakes on runaway nerves:
#1 – Control your pre-performance focus of concentration.
You will never be able to calm down out-of-control nerves unless you can learn to control your pre-performance focus of concentration. Two main concentration mistakes made by athletes generate nerves. The first is focusing on the outcome as you go into the contest. If you make a game too important and put too much pressure on yourself to score or play well, chances are you will stress out and underachieve. Instead, learn to go into a competition focusing on the process of your performance in the present, one point or play at a time. When it really counts, leave your ultimate goals and expectations at home.
The second concentration mistake is paying too much attention to the opponent. If you’re too focused on the size, strength, talent or reputation of your competition, or the need to beat them, you will send your pre-game nerves through the roof. Instead, discipline yourself to keep your mind on you and your job. Play your own game and stay centered to remain calm before and during your performance.
#2 – Keep your pre-game ritual the same.
One thing that will consistently “bind anxiety” and keep you calm is to rely on a consistent pre-performance ritual. Regardless of the importance of the game, approach it the same way and do the same things you usually do before you compete. The familiarity of your ritual will help you stay calm and comfortable.
#3 – Do not allow yourself to dwell on uncontrollable factors.
Far too many athletes get hung up on the “uncontrollables” right before and during their performances. Thinking about things you have no direct control over will make you nervous, undermine your confidence and sabotage your game. Instead, try to keep your thoughts and focus only on the things that you can directly control. Whenever you’re feeling nervous, ask yourself, “Do I have direct control over what I’m worried about right now?” If the answer is “No,” try to switch your thoughts to something that you can control.
#4 – Keep in mind that the problem is never the problem. The problem is how you react to the problem.
Getting nervous before a big competition is not a problem—but how you react to your nervousness is. Many athletes, noticing their pre-game jitters, react to them by freaking out. When you feel pre-game nerves, or when anything unexpected happens to you, try to remember that the real problem lies in how you react, not in the thing itself. Accept your pre-game jitters as normal and view them as a sign that you’re ready to perform at your best.
#5 – Slow and deepen your breathing.
Whenever you’re feeling stressed in the hours or minutes leading up to a big game, immediately switch your focus to your breathing. Deliberately try to slow and deepen your breathing. When thoughts about the upcoming contest intrude, quickly return your focus to the feel and rhythm of your breath. This technique will be far more effective if you practice it every night for three to four minutes right before falling asleep.