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Mental Preparation
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How to manage nerves when competing

Nerves are a big part of competition. Sometimes the nerves are good – a few butterflies in the stomach to get the adrenaline pumping and the legs kicking a bit higher. Sometimes though, the nerves are bad. You’re anxious, you’re stressed, and you work yourself into such a state that you can make yourself sick. There is a big difference between these two types of nerves, and learning how to harness them for good rather than bad can make a huge difference to your performance.

Why do I get sick?

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “Some athletes can have a physical response or physical manifestation, such as vomiting, to an emotion such as anxiety or nervousness.” She goes on to say, “This response can be explained through the study of psychophysiology. Psychophysiology is the study of the interrelatedness between our mind, physical bodily systems and our behavior. It’s also called physiological psychology. There is an interconnection between our mental thoughts and physical behavior.

“Our thoughts and feelings ultimately affect our physical behavior. If our thoughts and feelings are negative or are not within an ‘acceptable’ intensity level for our performance, then our body gets out of balance. This imbalance can lead to a heightened heart rate, intensified sweating, rapid breathing and raised body temperature. These physiological changes are in response to the anxiety or nerves, and can result in a physical release, such as vomiting. Each individual athlete, depending on personality and physical make-up, has an acceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will enhance their performance and an unacceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will impede or inhibit their performance. Anxiety or nerves, if not within the ‘acceptable’ parameters, can manifest in a physical form. As a guideline, healthy and productive performance anxiety leaves as soon as the performance or competition starts. Unhealthy and counterproductive performance anxiety doesn’t leave once the performance or competition starts. Ideally, an athlete wants to get to their ‘optimal’ level of anxiety or nervousness before their performance or competition begins. Managing nerves and anxiety is important to prevent an undesirable physical response and an impeded performance from occurring.”

How do I manage my nerves?

Managing nerves is very personal, and there is no one size fits all solution. Taking the time to look at exactly why you get nervous, particularly if you have extreme or physical reactions, is the key to learning how to manage them. Fernbach points out, “It’s important to remember when an athlete has an excessive amount of nervousness that is making them physically distressed, they need to stop and consciously listen to what they’re saying to themselves to create such nerves and anxiety. Often times, what’s creating the nerves or anxieties are thoughts rooted in the past or the future.”

Fernbach shares a few simple techniques for managing nerves on competition day:

  • Keep things and tasks simple. On competition day, focus on the task at hand. Keep the mind rooted in the present on what has to be done and CAN be done before competition.
  • Develop a pre-performance routine. This routine can include making a list of all the things you need to do up until the competition or performance starts. The list can be as creative and detailed as you want it to be. It can include tasks such as getting all of your items ready for the performance, writing down a list of 5 to 10 adjectives that you want your performance to look or feel like, doing a specific number and type of stretches, taking 8 deep breathes, repeating a favorite quote or listening to a favorite song, visualizing yourself being successful out on stage or recalling some inspirational words, a confident moment or some positive self-talk. The idea of a pre-performance routine is to keep the mind focused and pre-occupied with the task at hand so the nerves don’t consume the mind and manifest in the body.
  • Start a conversation with someone to help distract your mind. Keep the conversation fun, light and positive.
  • Recite mantras or motivational phrases to yourself. These can also be included in your pre-performance routine.
  • Breathe the nerves in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe in, you can picture the nerves as being accepted and brought into your body. As you breathe out, you can picture the nerves being processed and released out of your body.

Do you get very nervous before competitions? Does it affect you in a negative way? Do you have any great management techniques you can share? Let us know below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

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