Six Ways to Overcome Feeling Nervous in Sports and Performances

Six Ways to Overcome Feeling Nervous in Sports and Performances

Sometimes I watch the best performers in the world, singers like Rihanna or athletes like Roger Federer, and think, "Wow, they just look so effortlessly good at what they do." But they are human too and that means they experience nerves just like us!

It doesn't matter if you're anxious about upcoming exams, or you're Lydia Ko and you're nervous lining up for a putt in the final round of a major; we can all learn to respond to these feelings in a positive way. Lydia's coach gave an insight into her mental game by saying "Lydia is no different in that she does get nervous like everyone else. Where she is very different though is in her desire to control it."

Here are our six tips to keep calm under pressure and control your nerves. The aim isn't to remove that butterfly-in-your-tummy feeling altogether, but to learn how to reduce the effect that nerves and anxiety have on you so you can play and perform with confidence!

1. Your results don’t define you (and they never did)

Your results don’t define who you are and if you allow them to you are in for a roller coaster full of highs and lows. Growing up playing sport, I believed that if I lost a match it made me less as a person and if I won I was more loveable. Thoughts like these only increased the pressure I put on myself and made me more anxious. If you are going to let your value be defined by anything let it be your commitment, focus and attitude! You are so much more than a poor performance or a big trophy. You are an awesome person regardless of your achievements!

2. Focus on what you can control

Stressing out about the result or outcome reduces your performance, and lets face it, the outcome is never fully in your control. Instead of expending energy thinking about the result and taking your focus away from the task at hand, switch your attention to things you can control like your attitude or the advice a teacher or coach has given you. "I'm going to just try and enjoy the tournament, just focus on the shot I have in front of me and not think about the result” Lydia Ko said.

3. Channel your nerves

You can use your nerves, and the adrenaline pumping through your body, to help you. Some athletes say they are "pumped" before a match and what that really means is that they are excited and motivated. They harness their nerves, or excitement, and direct that energy positively towards their focus, game plan and intensity. You can work on using your energy and any excitement you feel to bring your A game, but be conscious of not letting yourself get too carried away with excitement as this can make you less emotionally balanced and level headed to make clear decisions. Find a balance that works for you!

4. You can’t please everyone

Mums, dads, coaches and friends will always have thoughts and opinions about what they see or hear but it’s not your job to impress them! Inevitably if you try to impress others, it only distracts you from your task at hand. You might feel pressure from parents, teachers or teammates and this can add weight to your shoulders. "I'm getting used to everyone judging me and judging how I play," admits Silver Fern Kayla Cullen. "I try to stay calm and try not to think about the crowd and people watching; I just play." Talk to the people who support you if you feel they put pressure on you to succeed. Sharing openly can help you to work through it together.

5. Develop a routine

Most of the best athletes and performers in the world go through a stress reducing routine before or during games to help reduce their anxiety. A familiar routine can help you to be more calm and stay focused on the task at hand, which is especially useful in a pressure situation. Try practicing a few of the ideas below to help you create a go-to routine;

  • take 5-10 seconds for several breathes in and out through your nose
  • shut your eyes and remind yourself of your intention/aim
  • focus on one thing that your teacher or coach has told you
  • take a few minutes to visualise what you want to do before your performance;
  • breathe in and as you breathe out, let the tension in your body go and shake your arms/legs out to release any tension
  • make a playlist to listen to before you perform that calms or motivates you and puts you in a relaxed, focused space
  • focus your eyes on something familiar, like your strings in tennis or your music in a recital
  • smile :)

6. Remember the bigger picture

Sometimes we get so caught up in results that we forget life is about more than just getting a medal. There is love, kindness and joy too! It hurts when you fall short of your goal, I know, but if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture for a moment it put’s things into perspective. I liked this quote from tennis player, Maria Sharapova “At the end of the day, I have to remember that tennis is just a sport – I’m not trying to cure cancer – all I can do is my best and enjoy it."

We'd love to hear about your tools for managing stress and anxiety! Share your favourite tips below and inspire others along the way! xx

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