One of the challenges that every athlete will face is dealing with competition stress. From the pressure of taking part to living up to expectations, it can be a difficult time if you’re under prepared.
Managed by our endocrine system and nervous system, stress and anxiety can affect our muscles, adrenaline function, behaviour and more. This can have a detrimental effect on performance ability, so it’s important to take appropriate action to overcome it.
As such, it’s important to have the right approach and strategy in place, since it’s an inevitability that you’ll have to deal with these emotions at some point.
Here’s eleven helpful tips to help you deal with competition stress at any level:
#1 – Have a plan
Ahead of a big event or competition it’s important to keep thoughts positive. At the same time however, it’s useful to have a plan of action for dealing with any problems that could throw you. For instance, a backup if your kit fails you, or preparation for the different weather you might have to face. While you can’t prepare for all eventualities, having a plan of action for some of the potential problems will help you cope better with them, should they crop up.
#2 – Take regular breaks
From daily sport to daily training, be sure to take enough time to prepare mentally. Take regular breaks from your training regime to break up the day and give the necessary head space that you need for achieving your potential.
#3 – Get enough sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for function and performance, as well as recovery. Most sports coaches will recommend an early night to achieve a minimum eight to ten hours. Additionally, it’s not just about the amount of sleep you get, but the amount of quality sleep, allowing for deep sleep and REM for recovery. This means creating a peaceful environment that is conducive to rest – essential for mental preparation.
#4 – It’s good to talk
As the saying goes, it’s good to talk. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to those in your close circle to share how you’re feeling. It’s one of the best ways to get emotions out, as well as get another perspective on matters. In the world of sports psychology, it’s something we actively encourage, since communication is vital for wellbeing in the run up to an event.
#5 – Don’t compare yourself to others
One way to combat competition stress is to keep a healthy perspective. While it’s natural to compare yourself to others, it’s also unhelpful in the run up to an event. This is a time when you should be focusing on personal goals. Having a pre-performance routine is one way of keeping your focus without distraction.
#6 – Keep life in perspective
Working with your sports coach in advance will help prepare you for the stress of competitions. Part of this is learning to keep everything in perspective and taking a step back from your situation. If you don’t practice mindfulness or meditation, now is the time to take it up.
#7 – Enjoy a balanced diet
There’s a reason why elite athletes have nutritionists and dieticians in their team. These professionals are fully aware of the importance of a well-balanced diet for ultimate performance. Eating the right balance of foods at the right time will help give your body the fuel it needs to sustain the endurance of the competition ahead. Eating right is crucial for overall performance. In the words of Mo Farah, it’s about ‘eating well and training right’!
#8 – Prepare yourself and be organised
When things are left to chance, it can lead to unnecessary stress. Give yourself the best head-start possible and prepare for your competition in earnest. Being organised extends from having your kit ready, to having your playlist to hand, to knowing the route you’re taking and the time you’re leaving. Anything you can do to alleviate competition stress on the day is worth considering.
#9 – Take advice from coaches
Been there, done that – that’s the view that a trusted sports coach will have. That’s not something to brush aside, but instead embrace. The years of experience, coupled with their coaching skills and background means that they have practical helpful guidance to see you through the challenges that lie ahead.
#10 – Relaxation techniques
There’s a whole host of breathing and relaxation techniques that can see you through the challenges of competitions. Deep breathing is one such way, since it opens up our lungs and helps us take more oxygen in. Rhythmic breathing, is another similar technique that involves setting your own rhythm for breaths, like in yoga. Taking cyclical breaths, they start long and then reduce to shorter intakes is a proven way of helping to manage anxiety.
#11 – Goal Setting
At the start of your athletic performance training programme, you will probably have worked with your coach to set short, medium and long-term goals. In sports psychology, one of the important parts of this is about setting realistic goals. The importance of having goals in place is to create a sense of achievement and motivation throughout your journey. While goals should therefore stretch you, they should always be achievable. Failing to put achievable goals in place is a fast track to disappointment and can even knock confidence. Give yourself the best shot at success, and set goals that both you and your sports coach believe are realistic.
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