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The Star Mentality Post

  • Writer's pictureRifat Hussein

The Top 3 Mental Strategies for Overcoming Performance Anxiety in Sport

Dealing with performance anxiety can be incredibly frustrating, especially after investing countless hours in training and practice. As soon as it’s time to compete, the nerves can hit hard, and the self-doubt starts to creep in. Your heart begins to race, your hands tremble and you become fixated on negative thoughts. The worst-case scenarios flood your mind to the point you almost feel paralyzed and unable to perform at your best.

It's a terrible feeling, but you’re not alone. Even the best and most elite athletes have faced performance anxiety at some point in their careers.

However, it has been suggested sporting anxiety can be determined by low levels of self-efficacy. Hence, we have compiled a list of the top three techniques that we believe can instill feelings of confidence and help manage your anxiety, even when the pressure is on.

1. Cognitive Reappraisal

This is an effective strategy that focuses on utilizing your nervous energy as rocket fuel. It involves changing how you feel, think, and the meaning you attach to your given situation. Rather than becoming drained by your physical symptoms of anxiety (butterflies, increased heart rate, and sweating) and seeing it as a sign of fear, you view them as a natural reaction to the match ahead.

By taking a step back and reframing your nervous feelings as excitement, you channel that energy into a more productive mindset.

One way to practice this method is through visualization. By vividly picturing yourself warming up, you can use your feelings in that moment as a signal that your body is primed and ready to perform. Additionally, it can be helpful to concentrate on your strengths during visualization as a way to remind yourself you can give it your all.

As you do this, you learn to use your anxiety to your advantage, giving you the resilience to perform under pressure and propel you toward success.

2. Practice Positive Self-Talk

When performance anxiety reaches its peak, maladaptive thoughts can take over, leaving you feeling absorbed and overwhelmed.

Some examples of these thoughts might include:

  • “If I don’t play well in this game, I’ll never be successful”

  • “My last game was bad, so I’m a terrible athlete”

  • “It’s going to be all my fault if we lose”

  • “I made a mistake, so it doesn’t matter if I play well for the rest of the match”

As you can imagine, dwelling on these thoughts becomes distracting and discouraging, increasing the likelihood of poor performance. It takes your mind away from the game and it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Despite this, by acknowledging these types of thoughts, you are already taking the first step toward overcoming them. If you can identify your thought patterns, it gives you an insight into what thoughts you need to replace.

This is where positive self-talk comes in. This method can be highly successful in helping you manage your performance anxiety. This is as your language is your cognition and your cognition influences your actions. Hence, if you change the language you use, you can influence your thought patterns and alter your behaviour.

For example, instead of saying “I’m going to mess up”, try saying “I’ve prepared for this and I’m ready to be at my best”. By changing your perspective, you reduce those feelings of doubt, boost your confidence, and begin to act in a way that is beneficial to your game.

To reap the rewards of positive self-talk, it’s essential to make it a habit and counteract negative thoughts each time they arise. Consistent practice not only makes this approach more effective but also builds awareness of your thoughts and shapes your cognition into a powerful asset.

3. Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness is a mental technique that focuses your attention on the present moment, without judgement or distraction. It’s about bringing your thoughts back to the task at hand each time your mind wanders.

Despite this, when introducing the idea of mindfulness, it’s common to be met with skepticism. This is because it doesn’t align with the competitive and physically demanding nature of sports.

It's important to dispel these common misconceptions. Mindfulness is a scientifically supported practice that has been shown to reduce anxiety, lower stress, and improve overall well-being in athletes. Furthermore, it can be tailored to meet your unique needs, incorporating movement-based practices, or integrating them into your pre-game routines.

With mindfulness, you can gain the ability to manage your thoughts, emotions, and feelings more efficiently. This gives you the power to stay on top of your performance anxiety.

To use mindfulness:

1) Find a quiet place where you can sit

2) Close your eyes and focus on your breath

3) Notice the sensations of the air moving in and out of your body

4) If your mind starts to drift, gently bring your focus back to your breath

The key is using your breathing as an anchor to center your mind. Even practicing for just five minutes each day can be useful, so don’t worry about it taking up too much of your time. As you become more comfortable and skilled, you can gradually increase the duration.

Remember, mindfulness is a versatile tool that can help you tackle your performance anxiety and get you playing at your full potential.

Take Home Messages

Performance anxiety can be a major obstacle for many athletes, but it doesn’t have to be a roadblock to success. By adding these three mental strategies into your tool kit (cognitive reappraisal, positive self-talk, and mindfulness) you can learn to manage and overcome your performance anxiety.

By regularly honing these skills, you can develop the resilience to not only accomplish your goals but also enjoy your sport to the fullest.


What are some techniques or strategies you use to manage your performance anxiety? We would love to hear them in the comments section below!


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