The other day one of the athletes I worked with at a workshop asked me the following question: “I was wondering if you could tell me what to do when your nervous for a race or something”.
I figured some of you might have this same question, so I’d answer it here.
Now the first thing I want to say is that there’s not one right answer here. As an athlete, you will always have to play around with different mental toughness strategies until you find the one(s) that work best for you.
That being said, here’s one way I’d coach my athlete to deal with their nerves:
- Awareness: The biggest key in dealing with any aspect of mental toughness is awareness. So the first thing I’d have you do is pay attention to how you’re feeling. What does your body feel like? What do you feel like emotionally? What sort of thoughts are floating around in your head. If you’re not aware, these feelings and thoughts can take over and sabotage your performance. Just by becoming aware and saying to yourself ‘Man I’m nervous!’, you’ve already won half the battle.
- Reality Check: Next I’d have you do a quick reality check by asking yourself “Have I ever before felt nervous and performed well?” or “Do I usually get nervous before a race, competition or performance?” The reality is that when you care about something and want to do well, it is natural for you to get butterflies in your stomach and start feeling nervous in anticipation of the event. This is a normal thing for athletes, as normal as sweating. Notice you don’t start becoming concerned when you sweat, however you do when you get nervous. Being nervous is as natural as sweating, so don’t sweat it. It’s ok, it’s normal, and unless you start worrying about it or thinking that it’s going to affect your performance, it won’t. The point here is to accept your nervousness a s a natural part of your performance (and if you’re not nervous, that’s fine too – some people sweat more than others too!).
- Have Fun: At the end of the day, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Get connected to why you’re competing in the first place: Why you play your sport? What do you love about it? Focus in on all the things you love and do those things. Enjoy every moment, whether it’s going well or not, since you’re going to have difficult times, you’re going to lose, you’re going to fail, so might as well have fun doing it :D. Besides, in the difficult times, in the failures, that’s where you usually learn the most.