Managing Performance Anxiety

The beloved stage fright amplified into the world of athletics. I’ve dealt with performance anxiety all my life, and I’ve had many different experiences in managing it. There are so many different factors that contribute to performance anxiety so I’ve had to readjust my approach to managing it many times. The competitive atmosphere, support system, coaching style, and team attitude were constantly changing every season and the reason why performance anxiety is an ongoing struggle in my life. 

I could not possibly give you a single answer on how to manage performance anxiety because every athlete’s experience is different. What I can do is provide a few tips that I used in each scenario. But I am sure you can take something from each scenario. 

“The Clutch” – You are the player that your team and coaches look to when the game is on the line — you are expected to perform in the extremely high-pressure situation with the game on your shoulders. 

My biggest tip for this is to never classify an athlete in this category, not just for the sake of staying humble but it also takes some pressure off. Remind the athletes that sports are a team effort, emphasize trust in teammates to do their part so one athlete doesn’t have to carry the entire game on their shoulders. 

“The Starter” – You are a regular player within the starting line-up but not considered the best on the team — You are not the first player that is turned to when the game is on the line.

This is the role on a team that I am most familiar with and, in turn, have struggled the most with. This scenario is more difficult to approach because the pressure comes from things that are out of your control. The initial way of relieving anxiety is finding something to contribute that would be entirely in the athlete’s control; my attitude would always be positive even if I’m having an off game.

“The Pinch Hitter” – Not a regular in the lineup but turned to in certain situations, usually the game is not necessarily on the line. Expectations are moderate, but limited opportunity brings pressure — you are expected to be the clutch in that situation without the experience. 

The pressure in this situation is created in an athlete’s mind because they want to perform well during their limited opportunity. Often the expectations of others are low, but the athlete’s expectations of themselves are too high to make up for the low expectations of others. Managing in this scenario revolves around shifting the mindset to seek growth in performance rather than an instant peak in performance when called upon. 

“The Benchwarmer” – does not play in games but expected to perform at a high level in practice in order to challenge the starting lineup to improve and compete at a higher level. There are usually no expectations but feeling inadequate puts pressure on the athlete.

This athlete is put through a lot more mentally than most people realize, and it is easy for the athlete to fall into the mindset of feeling irrelevant to the team. When an athlete is in this position it is important for the athlete to focus on improvement and finding ways to be competitive, this will help the athlete keep their motivation. Also finding a way to contribute something intangible to the team will help the athlete feel relevant on the team. 

Performance anxiety can be discouraging to an athlete, working hard in practice but unable to execute in the game. Outside forces can arise in an athlete’s head depending on coaches and teammates. Learning how to balance these forces will relieve that added stress from an athlete’s mind. It is important to realize that the athlete can’t change these factors, they are often out of their control. It’s all a balancing act, talking about the athlete’s mental game can help the coach and team accommodate to them, which will help the athlete find peace of mind during high-pressure situations.   

Having a supportive team atmosphere will also benefit the athlete greatly. Continue reading on how to create that environment 

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