How To Beat Performance Anxiety

Hey everybody, I’m coach Rebecca Smith, and I’m here to talk to you about performance anxiety.

It’s almost October. Some people are already competing. Some people are ramping up to get to that point where they’re going to start competing. So as we get closer to what I call ‘Nervous November’, I want to make October, which is right around the corner, all about building confidence.

The more that you can front load your confidence before the crazy stress of season hits you, the better you’re going to be able to just cruise through it. So what I call performance anxiety is anything that causes you to sort of freeze up under pressure or make stupid mistakes. I even noticed this when I was learning compulsory gymnastics routines when I was a coach and I was in Reno at this big convention center with a bunch of coaches, all doing this level four beam routine. And I’m doing it and I’m in my zone and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m doing so great. I’m really catching on.’

And then I see some random person walk by. And I catch that their eyes are on me and I fall out of my turn immediately. So this can happen on a micro scale and on a big, major scale, like Winter Olympics. Nathan Chen goes in and he’s just killing it. And he gets to Olympic finals and then falls apart. I think that’s the same exact thing. These really incredible athletes who have all eyes on them fall apart because they get nervous.

So there’s a reason why these athletes who do really great in practice, or maybe even in smaller competitions, start to underperform when it counts. And the main reason is because they care so much. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into it. And they try and try and try. They work so hard and they’re out there and they’re vulnerable. And then they fall apart or they make a mistake or they just don’t do what you know they’re capable of doing.

Then on the other side of the coin, there’s those kids who seem like they just don’t care at all. And they slack in practice. And then they get to the meet and they’re like, “Oh, cool. That kid won. Great.”

Great for my kid who always works really, really hard and does so great in practice. And then she goes to competition and gets beat by the kid who seems like she doesn’t even care. There’s a reason that caring is part of the problem.

The real problem behind performance anxiety is fear of failure and that is caused by perfectionism.

So if you have a mini perfectionist or even a larger size perfectionist, or maybe you are a perfectionist, you come with this concept of black and white thinking; an all or nothing. You’re either perfect or you’re failing and there’s nowhere in between. So what happens is you’re going out there and you’re basically like either ‘I am perfect or I am a failure’ and it’s not just I failed but I am a failure. And not being able to cope with that feeling of failure or even the potential of failure actually sends the mind into this self-protective ‘I’m about to be eaten by a tiger’ mode.

So then these kids are like, ‘I’m running away from a tiger’, which is really just a beam judge looking at me. And it really doesn’t matter if you make a mistake in competition. In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t. This will not be your last state meet. This will not be your last nationals. Ideally, this would not be your last Olympics.

If you go in with that black or white thinking, that all or nothing, that fail or be perfect, you’re going to have anxiety.

So what people try to do to overcome performance anxiety is they try to get perfect. They try to work harder or they try to push harder. Or they try to think more. They stop trusting their training. And they stop trusting their bodies. Then they start overthinking, which creates doubt and tension. And this anxiety snowball builds.

So that’s the typical way that these kids try to overcome that performance anxiety. They get perfect, work harder, think more. And that’s not what works.

What actually works is not being so hard on yourself. I know a lot of you perfectionists out there will be like, ‘But if I let up, if I take my foot off the gas, then I’ll fail.’

No, actually that’s not true!

Trusting yourself. That same thing that you do in practice, because it doesn’t really matter if you mess up. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to trust this one. I’m not going to overthink it. I’m just going.’ Because there’s nobody watching because it doesn’t matter. That trust that you can cultivate in practice, you can absolutely bring to performance. I promise you it’s a hundred percent possible.

You have to be kind to yourself. If you make a mistake in warmup and you’re like, ‘Oh, stupid. What’s wrong with me? Dang it. Why did I do that? Oh, no, everyone’s going to be so disappointed.’ Instead if you went, ‘Oh shoot, okay, let’s work on this. Nice try self, let’s get back up there.’ That makes a humongous difference. The way that you relate to yourself in those moments of potential failure are the make or break.

And then probably the most important thing is what do you do with failure?

Now nobody is perfect obviously. And you’ve all experienced failure. So what do you do with that failure? Do you either take all of your failures and you put them in a little box full of shameful, horrible things we never want to speak of and pretend it didn’t happen and hope nobody remembers even though it’s the only thing you ever think about anytime you think about competing. That’s one option.

Or you take those failures and you learn from them and you use them and you turn them into your superpower. There is so much wisdom in those failures that it is absolutely the staircase you climb to success is failure.

So if you’re able to shift your mindset away from the perfectionism and onto what really works, you turn your failure into a superpower. That’s going to give you this confidence that allows you to trust yourself.

So with that all in mind, you’re like “Coach Rebecca, how do I embrace failure? How do I get confident?”

Ah, I’m so glad you asked!

We are putting on a challenge right now. You know we love challenges around here. This one is probably my all time favorite challenge. I know all of the kids in PerformHappy just rant and rave about this challenge. And I’m going to give it to you even if you’re not a PerformHappy member. This is a very rare occurrence.

So if you want to do our seven day Superhero Confidence Challenge, start to give yourself that foundation of confidence so that you don’t have to worry about performance anxiety, so that you know how to deal with failure, so that you’re nicer to yourself, so that you can come out at the end of the week ready to rock, then you can sign up right now.

Superhero confidence challenge

It’s at I would love to have you join us and participate. I can’t wait to hear how much more confident you are at the end of the week. So check it out. I can’t wait to see you there and I’ll see you soon.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.