Today’s Topic: 5 Ways to Beat Pre-Competition Nerves
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Here’s our question for the day. This is from a dad of a track sprinter. He says,
Q: My daughter gets so nervous before a race, she throws up. It seemed to get worse as the season progressed. What techniques do you recommend that she use to help calm herself?
I’m going to give you five ways to beat pre-competition nerves. Whether you compete, race, play, or whatever verb you do, I’m going to give you all some tips that can help bring down the “lose your lunch” factor before a competition.
1. What’s the worst that could happen?
This is the first thing I do with athletes who are struggling with performance anxiety and nerves. The first thing I do is say, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Typically I video chat with these kids, and they look at me and say, “I don’t want to think about that. That’s going make it worse if I think about what could go wrong.”
Let’s say you are running, and you don’t run that fast because you’re stressed out, and that’s what happens. That’s happened, now what? You’re going to go do the next event, and then you’re going to do the next event. It’s going to be over, and you’re going to go have dinner.
After dinner, you’ll head home. You might be disappointed, and your parents might make you talk about it in the car, which is quite possibly the worst part of the entire experience depending on how your parents are. Then you go to bed, and then you wake up. You go to school, you go to practice, you go home and go to bed. You wake up, go to school, go to practice, and life goes on, right?
Life Goes On
A lot of the time we react in a way where if we don’t get a personal best, if we don’t win or get a medal, then it’s the end of the world. If you take a second and ask what the end of the world looks like? It looks like a bummed out night and a few frustrating practices, followed by some pretty good insights as to what you need to work on.
Identify things: my nerves are slowing me down. Then we help you with that. Ask me the question, I’ll give you the answers. Then you go and you apply that. Your coach can help you identify the reason you didn’t get a personal best. Then you go to practice and you work on it. Then at the next race, it’s not the end of the world again if you don’t do your best. It’s another opportunity to get more information about what’s going to make you successful.
If you put everything on the line in every single race because you don’t want to disappoint people, you don’t want to let people down, oh my gosh. You’re really giving your brain this like huge threatening attack of thoughts over something that on the timeline of your entire sport life is such a little dot. Consider that. Even if this goes terribly wrong, then what? It’s not going to be awesome, but life goes on. What is really true? What is the worst that could happen, and how would you cope? And if you think that you could cope with the worst case scenario, that’s going to cut your nerves down a lot.
2. Embrace It
Number two – embrace it. Every athlete who cares gets nervous. I get nervous before I do a big talk. You might notice that some of the coaches who come on and do Facebook lives for Complete Performance, they might even be nervous because they’re put on the spot. We want to be great, and we get nervous, everyone does. If you really care, and you’re really invested, you’re going to have more activation. The sports psychology term is arousal. It’s going to be jazzed up a little bit.
There are two ways of looking at that. The people who are champions look at that and think, “Oh good. My focus is narrowing, my adrenaline is turning on, my super go powers and cat-like reflexes are activating. I’m ready. Let’s do this. I have extra speed, extra focus, extra adrenaline, extra power. It’s go time.”
Then there are people who think, “Oh no. This feeling of heart pounding makes me think I’m going to die.” That super, hyper focus that comes with the adrenaline has to be sent in the right direction. If you can do that, then nerves are actually really useful. You want to be able to feel the belly, notice the butterflies, and know it’s go time. That means your adrenaline is coming.
I know a girl who’s swimming for a D1 college right now. She is one of the fastest girls I know. She was at the Olympic trials, and she used to throw up in the bushes before she would race. We worked on it together and she finally got a handle on it. She knew it was part of her process, and when she embraced the nerves, it stopped happening because she stopped focusing on resisting it.
3. Pre-flight Checklist
Before a pilot takes off, they go through their checklists. They make sure they do every single thing in exactly the same order to make sure that they’re completely prepared for a good flight. If you do this as an athlete, you’re going to be more prepared to have a good performance.
You’ll know the following: this is what I have for breakfast, this is the amount of sleep that I need to have, this is how I start my day, this is what I should focus on the day before. If I have an evening competition or if it’s a morning competition, I do it like this.
You’ll get to know yourself and what you need right before, during, and after. You’ll even know what to do the week before, the morning of, the night before, all of that.
Being Indecisive is Exhausting
Have you ever been out with some really indecisive people? You go to the movies and you ask what movie they want to watch. They say, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’ll like that.” Or, you ask where where they want to go to dinner, and they don’t know that either. They just ask where you want to go. You’re so exhausted by the time you’ve figured out what to eat, what movie to watch, and who’s driving, you need a night out from your night out.
If you have to make a bunch of decisions, it can be exhausting, and it can be agitating. If all of your decisions are pre made, like what you’ll have for breakfast, what you’re going to wear, how you’ll do your hair – you’ll be prepared and won’t have to worry.
You don’t have to prepare every little detail of your day, I’m just talking about the things that actually prepare you to have a good performance and to be at ease. Those are the things you want to have in order.
Freebie of the Day
Our freebie for the day, if you want to download my pre-race mental strategy planner, you can download that here. This freebie walks you through a bunch of questions that help you to analyze your past performances and figure out what you’re already doing that’s working and not working. It also gives you a big list of ideas you can try and instructions on how to practice. Again, that’s completeperformancecoaching.com/race, if you want a little help coming up with your preflight checklist.
Don’t play not to lose. What I mean by that is, do you want to get married so you won’t be lonely, or do you want to get married because you’re in love? Do you want to not fail, or do you want to nail it? Do you want to not mess up, or do you want to knock it out of the park? If you are so worried about not failing, not losing, then what happens is you get tense and conservative. Then you start to make twitchy, strange mistakes because you just don’t want to lose.
Instead, try thinking – what are the action steps that I have been training to get myself into winning mode? What do I have to actually do to execute a successful performance?
You want to have keywords in mind instead of thinking, “I hope I don’t fall. I hope I don’t mess this up. I hope I don’t have a bad start.” There’s something called mental choreography that works really well for a lot of different sports. You create a keyword that goes with each action, and that might even start with your pre-performance routine that you’re kind of key-wording yourself through it. If you can find one or two strong keywords, you can get your super adrenaline focus in on the right stuff at the right time.
If you get into the blocks, then, you’ve got the words. As you go, you have certain words to keep focusing on so that your mind doesn’t have time to think about anything else, i.e someone else beating you. None of that stuff is actually going to help you execute a good performance, so you want to have something already in place that will prevent that from taking up space in your mind. Don’t play not to lose. Don’t get stuck in all the “what ifs”. Instead, focus on only the little tidbits that are going to help you to execute. We’ll call that one focus.
5. Positive Distractions
This one is probably the silliest, easiest, and maybe even the most effective. For any of you who are over-thinkers, who start to go, “Oh gosh, what if I don’t do this way?” If no one was watching, you could probably go out and do it perfect, right? As soon as the eyes are on you, and you don’t want to let somebody down, then all these “what ifs” come in. One way that you can get your mind busy enough so that that won’t take over is by distracting yourself with good stuff.
For those of you who have a crazy sports mom, don’t hang out with your mom. Be distracted by something else. Turn off your phone. Get all of the negative distractions at bay. Take your best friend who’s on your team, who always keeps you laughing and keeps it light, and have her be your predetermined chatting buddy. You can have a song that you like to sing in your head, or even a song that you like to play in your earbuds so that you can have some boppy music going on or something really relaxing.
Depending on your personality, you’re going to have a different need, but it’s going to be something that gets you in the right energy mode, something that makes you happy. Talk to your friend, think about lasagna, think about your cat or about things that have nothing to do with what you’re about to do because you’ve already trained. Your body is already as fit as it’s going to be.
What Makes you Happy?
If you’re trying last minute to teach your brain how to run, it’s not going to work. You might as well think of things that make you happy, that get the tension out of your body, that make you not feel so stressed so you can actually allow your trained body to just go do its job.
Recap now. Number one, have a reality check. Two, embrace the nerves. Three, have a preflight checklist. Four, focus on the right stuff and stop playing not to lose. Five, positive distraction.
Thanks for joining me.