Sports Performance Anxiety


Whilst raw talent, genetics and physical training make up a large portion of a sports athlete’s arsenal for success, a crucial part of the equation is how we are equipped internally.

Mental preparation and stamina are a significant and consequential part of how we perform in a competitive environment and can be the difference between winning and losing a game.

Sports anxiety is a concept which is cited in psychoanalytical literature and is something that affects many athletes from amateur through to elite. Some of the greatest sports players have maintained an edge through their control of emotions, keeping focus on the most important tasks at hand and also maintaining balance and discipline towards external factors.

Research from the American Psychological Association has found that people can carry anxiety from as far back as childhood – such as disapproval, rejection, envy, abandonment and annihilation which manifest in a loss of control which we can be quite unaware of.

Research indicates that there are two effective ways to combat sports performance related anxieties. The winning combination is meditation and guided imagery. Here is an excellent example of some mental preparation that an athlete might undertake. This is an excerpt from Psychology Today: “A few weeks before an important race or game or meet, try sitting every second day for 15-20 minutes alone in a room in a comfortable chair with your eyes closed. Sit with legs and arms uncrossed. Begin to visualize your stomach as a brightly colored balloon. Slowly and deeply breathe in and out and visualize your stomach (not your lungs!) inflating and deflating. Use your breathing as a point of concentration.  When your mind inevitably wanders, patiently bring your attention back to your breathing. Notice how your anxiety level rises and falls depending on how successful you are at maintaining focus or how your mind wanders to other things including your event.
During these exercises, begin to imagine performance situations. For example, visualize yourself going through your race day ritual. Visualize every stage of your event and write a positive script in your imagination. Observe the shifts in your anxiety level during this imagination and the variables that impact it. When self-defeating messages or images enter your mind, work to erase these images and return focus to your breathing. Within realistic reason, challenge or replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk.”

Using techniques like relaxation meditation and guided imagery can can help us perform better and push ourselves athletically and also in everyday life. Here at SPT we encourage athletes to take a holistic approach to their training and performances – whether it be physical technique, mental training or technological with products such as our GPS units. We hope that all of these sources will prove to be useful tools for athletes to improve and be the best they can.

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