I have been writing numerous blogs hoping to help athletes find ways to improve their performance when it matters. I am fully aware that competition brings nervous feelings as you are expecting to perform to your best abilities and, that alone, can become quite nerve wracking. It is not easy to feel perfectly calm, and in fact, the great majority of the times, you will feel nervous regardless of how well you thought you were mentally prepared. Top name athletes feel nervous when facing challenging tasks. And, I mean big name athletes like, Roger Federer, Phil Mickelson, LeBron James, etc. The goal is not to always find a super calm state of mind prior and during competition. In fact, it is the opposite. The goal is to know what mental strategies you can mostly rely on to achieve your best even if feeling nervous.
It is known that negative thoughts interfere with fluidity of muscle movement. The more you think about the mechanics of your stroke or swing, the more likely your muscles will tighten. If the outcome of the performance is below expectation, bringing up more negative thoughts is just the opposite of what you need to do. It will create even more muscle tightening and poorer performance.
If you want to use thoughts to bring more focus to your task, make sure you keep them to a minimum. Just consistently use one or two positive words that trigger attention to the present moment. Do not focus on achieving an outcome as it is completely fruitless. You will be much better off sticking with the process that leads you to managing your feelings and preparing your state of mind.
If you feel nervous, do not assume that you will perform poorly. Feeling nervous is often what differentiates between practice from competition. When you practice, you are mostly paying attention to the mechanics and technical aspects of your stroke or swing. When you compete, the attention shifts to wanting to do well. The attention shifts to wanting to attain an outcome and, therefore, emotions begin to show up. Nervousness begins to creep in and so are the negative thoughts.
If you do not learn to manage these common competitive emotions, performing to your potential would be difficult. If you use strategies to normalize your nervous feelings, such as saying to yourself: “I am feeling nervous and it is a good feeling,” then you will help your body to be better ready to perform its task.
To be ready for crunch time, do as follows:
1 – Recognize that you are feeling nervous and remain positive.
2 – State a short positive phrase that helps you redirect your focus back to task.