Performance anxiety is not uncommon in sports, as to some extent, fear of performance helps in achieving desired concentration. However, the excess will lead to a rush of adrenaline termed as anxiety. Whenever you feel short of breath, sweating, shaking or high heart beat rate. You lose concentration, your actions become disjointed and you feel paralyzed at the beginning of an important sporting event. These are symptoms of performance anxiety. You no longer feel confident in yourself and do not believe that you will be able to accomplish anything successful. To deal with such thoughts you must learn how to manage anxiety and to do so, it is imperative to understand how sports performance and anxiety are interrelated.
How Does Anxiety Affect Sports Performance?
Anxiety affects a sports players’ performance in physiological, cognitive and behavioral ways. If you suffer from anxiety before an important athletic competition, your sports performance will be affected. When your body is tense and blood pressure high, it is difficult for your body to move in a fluid and coordinated manner. Your actions will be jerky and misplaced, affecting your performance in a negative manner. Listed below are the ways in which anxiety can affect sports performance.
When you are afraid of a certain situation, you may experience body paralysis once you find yourself present in that situation. This indicates severe anxiety. An example of this is when an athlete suffers from stage fright, which they may experience right before a large, public competition. When feeling overwhelming fear, the athlete may be unable to move, talk or act at all.
2. Unable to Concentrate
Pre-competitive anxiety also develops as an inability to concentrate before an upcoming event or competition. The athlete is unable to concentrate on the task at hand and therefore cannot give their performance full attention. The root cause of the inability to concentrate is feelings of apprehension.
Apprehensions cause the individual to feel that they will fail or decrease their confidence in their ability. These negative thoughts will invade the individual’s mind and cause them to lose concentration, which results in mixing up tasks and forgetting what is needed to be done in the present situation.
The anxiety makes the athlete over conscious of his situation and the apprehensions make him feel uneasy. As a result, the body may feel sudden bursts of heat and will release a lot of perspiration when the body receives signals from the brain. Excessive sweating can occur anywhere on the body but mainly on the hands and the face. The individual will begin to feel uncomfortable and this merely reinforces the anxiety they are already feeling.
4. Racing Heart
As a result of anxiety the heart rate of an athlete may also increase manifold. This may be due to the excessive release of adrenaline in the body. Increased heart rates are also related to panic. If the athletes become increasingly panicked, the heart rate will also increase.
5. Shortness of Breath
Breathing very fast or panting is another symptom of anxiety. Sometimes the athletes experience a shortness of breath and struggle to take in oxygen. It is not uncommon for athletes to hyperventilate due to severe anxiety. This in turn can deprive the brain of enough oxygen, which would lead to dizziness and/or fainting.
When an athlete is suffering from severe anxiety and is panicking, the brain may not receive as much blood and oxygen as it normally does. This results in dizziness, which if severe can result in the athlete fainting. Feelings of dizziness can disable the athlete to such an extent that they may be unable to perform.
Before a competition or important event, an athlete may experience severe shaking of the hands or knees. This is due to an increased spike of adrenaline in the body, which is brought on by severe anxiety. If the anxiety persists, the body may collapse.
How to Prevent Anxiety in Sports Performance
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
The diaphragm is a muscle between the chest and the stomach cavity. The breathing done by contracting this muscle is known as diaphragmatic breathing. It requires simple practice to learn and then it should be repeated several times daily. The link will guide you to learn the technique.
2. Relaxation Technique
When the athlete feels the symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure or difficult breathing, a relaxation technique can help in controlling the anxiety. In one relaxation technique, the athlete is asked to lie down in a darkened room and think about relaxing his body from the outside inward. As a result, the blood pressure, breathing and hearth rate normalizes. If the anxiety attack is more severe, then massaging the body can relax the individual to a great extent.
Visualization is a technique, used by the athletes to control their anxiety. In this technique one visualizes himself in a situation similar to the actual event. The athlete visualizes himself winning in front of the entire crowd where the event is to take place. Below are more ways you can use visualization to combat performance anxiety.
- Visualizing Yourself
This is one of the exercises of visualization in which athlete visualizes themselves. The athlete is asked to visualize every physical aspect of their body with their eyes closed. While visualizing the body, the athlete tells himself that each of these body parts is fine and in good working condition.
- Visualizing Your Game
Another exercise requires the athlete to visualize the actual sport they are to play. The athlete visualizes the events starting from the preparations before going onto the field and the first move, and finally the victory.
- Visualizing Your Opponents
So far, you have visualized yourself and your game. In this exercise the athlete is now required to imagine how he sees his opponent playing. While visualizing his opponent’s moves, he is supposed to tell himself that his moves are better than his opponent, and visualize how he should combat his opponents’ moves.
4. Muscle Relaxation
Anxiety results in stiffness of the muscles. Muscle relaxing practices are done to avoid this happening during the actual game. In this technique, the athlete tenses a particular muscle of the leg, abdomen, hands or face for 10 seconds with the eyes closed. After 10 seconds of tension, 20 seconds of relaxation should be practiced before moving to the next muscle.
5. Focusing on What Can Be Controlled
Athletes should remind themselves that they are better trained, they have developed better techniques, but should not try to control things that are not in their control such as the audience or the opponent.