One Thing Athletes Do NOT Want To Talk About

Anxious, Me? – Never.

“I Don’t Get Anxiety Before Games” – Every Athlete.

Athletes Don’t Experience Anxiety – Right

Oh the dreaded seven letter word: ANXIETY. The one thing we don’t want to talk about as athletes. The thing many of us claim to have never experienced. Well, busted, because if you have never felt anxious or worried, or like you’re going to pass out before a game, then you’re not human. Yes, I said it, you might as well be a robot! All of us athletes have experienced a phenomenon I like to call “Under the Lights Phenomenon.”

Athletes and Anxiety

I use the term Under the Lights Phenomenon because most competitions are played under lights. But there is also this idea athletes are placed under a microscope, constantly being watched by numerous individuals. This can be very anxiety provoking! This phenomenon can occur at any time before a game, whether it’s the night before, in the morning before a game, during warm-ups, five minutes before the start of a game, or at any point for any athlete.

What can you do when you’re experiencing Under the Lights Phenomenon?

Many of you probably already have a pre-game routine which helps you get ready for competition and ease your anxiety. Some of you may

  • listen to music
  • prefer silence
  • play a game on your phone

whatever routine you have it’s important to do that routine before every game. It is also important to have anxiety coping strategies to use during competition when you feel anxious.

For those of you that don’t have a pre-game/competition routine, or maybe your current routine isn’t working, I will lay out some suggestions to add to your routine that may be helpful for anxiety avoidance.

  • Deep Breathing
  • Visualization / Guided imagery
  • Smiling

 

Deep Breathing For Anxiety

Deep breathing does not just literally mean to breathe, we do that all the time. When I say deep breathing I mean put all of your focus is placed on your breathing.

  1. Find a quiet place without distractions
  2. Close your eyes, or keeping them open if you prefer
  3. Consciously focus on your breath

By focusing only on your breath your thoughts of anxiety start to dwindle away and you can focus on being in the present moment. Deep breathing helps athletes relax their muscles prior to competition allowing for more fluid athletic performance.

If you have never done deep breathing exercises before it might take some practice for you to be fully able to solely focus on your breath. When you’re in your deep breathing state, and your mind starts to wander remember, the goal here is to focus on your breath.

 

Visualization Helps With Anxiety

Visualization, also known as guided imagery has been a technique used extensively in the sports psychology field, with numerous studies indicating its effectiveness (Bernier & Fournier, 2010; Cumming & Ramsey, 2009; Cumming & Williams, 2012). Maybe at one point, you’ve heard about it, maybe you haven’t, but nonetheless, visualization can have an extreme impact on athletic performance, especially for those who are rehabbing from an injury.

The goal of visualization is for the athlete to again:

  • find a quiet area with no distractions
  • close your eyes

Imagine yourself pitching the best game of your life – be very specific. I want you to notice the smell of the dirt, the feel of having the ball in your hand, the way your spikes feel on the dirt, the catcher’s mitt as your target, your breath before every pitch. I want you to be able to feel your environment.

Once you have that, focus on the mechanics of each of your pitches as they come off your hand. Feel your body, without actually doing it, going through the motion of a fastball, a curveball, a change-up. Essentially, you want to go through an entire game during visualization.

I recommend this part of your routine either the night before or the morning of. Give yourself time to sit down and visualize an entire game.

I want you to keep something else in mind. Remember, in a game, mistakes will be made and the opposing team will hit your pitches so it’s important to visualize these as well. That way you can visualize yourself making the adjustments you need so you can transfer that into your competition.

 

Smile and Laugh

I know this going to sound simple and maybe even a little stupid, but I recommend you smile and laugh before your game.

Remember the reason you started playing your sport in the first place. Too often as athletes, we get so tense and we feel this need to be perfect and always perform at our best. And when we don’t perform at our best we feel as if we have failed, which then increases our anxiety.

So take the time to actually enjoy the game. Have fun with your teammates and smile. Play for the little boy or girl who fell in love with the game in the first place and you will never lose.

 

I’m planning to do this with all my blogs. I want to end each one with an activity to go along with our discussion about deep breathing.

 

Breathing Exercises For Anxiety

 

  1. I want you to find a quiet place at home, or where ever you feel most comfortable.
  2. Dim the lights a little and make sure you will have no distractions.
  3. You can lay on the floor, or sit down with your legs crossed.
  4. Start by closing your eyes and just breathing. I would like for you to try this for about 3-5 minutes. While you’re breathing I want you to focus on your breath only. Keep everything else out of your mind. As you start to focus on your breathing, start focusing on your body parts, starting with your legs. Feel the way your body reacts with every breath you take.

You might feel your mind start to think about other things, when this happens, recognize it and start focusing on your breath again.

When you are done with this exercise I hope your mind and body is more relaxed. It can be difficult for us to take the time to just breathe when our lives are so busy. However, it’s important to take some time to just relax after a hard day of practice, school, personal issues, family issues, and everything else we may face.

You may not believe it, but stress and anxiety can have a serious toll on our bodies if we don’t take the time to deal with it.

To continue on with our discussion of anxiety, I’m going to talk about the stress parents can place on their children to perform. Yes, parents, it’s now your turn to be placed in the spotlight!

Good luck!