Do you become anxious before or during important games or competitions?
Are you able to manage your competition anxiety or does your nervousness get the best of you during competitions?
Think of this scenario…
You are warming up or stretching as competition starts minutes away. This competition is the most important competition of your season and you can feel the mounting pressure building inside you.
You tell yourself, “Don’t get nervous” but that self-advice only draws attention to the fact that you are anxious.
You start doubting your ability and thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong.
You can’t seem to focus on your performance and you compete hesitantly trying to not make a mistake.
Sounding familiar? This is Big Game Anxiety.
Anxiety is directly related to your thoughts.
When you think about making mistakes or failing (fear of failure), you will become anxious. You may not be able to control the content of your thoughts, but you can control what you chose to focus on.
How? if a particular thought is increasing your anxiety level (making a mistake), switch your focus to a more performance-enhancing thought (your game strategy).
Argentine soccer player, Lionel Messi, is one of the best soccer players of his generation. Messi scored four goals during the 2014 World Cup and was awarded the golden ball as the best player at the tournament. Messi, despite his elite skill level, admitted to being anxious during Argentina’s 2014 World Cup opener.
MESSI: “It’s not easy to play the first match in the World Cup and what it means, the anxiety, the nerves.”
Messi has learned to manage the anxiety of being in the spotlight and raise his level of play even higher.
MESSI: “I have matured a lot as a footballer over the last few years. I’ve been through a lot of good and bad things that have made me a better professional.”
So what does Messi focus on in critical games to manage his feelings of anxiety? Messi focuses on his game… driving the ball towards the opposing goal and trusting in his abilities.
MESSI: “I always try to do what I think is the best thing, to head towards the opposition’s goal and from there it all comes naturally.”
Try these tips to manage your competition anxiety:
1. Realize that big games will be charged with emotion. It’s normal. Your job is to harness and manage that emotion. Embrace the challenge.
2. Lear how to control your intensity level so you can adjust during competitions (ex. taking a few deep breaths).
3.Learn how to refocus your attention. Since you can’t focus on two thoughts simultaneously, switching your focus from what you are feeling to your task in the competition (like your game plan), will help lesson your anxiety.
Your Mental Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn
Do you look like a star in practice, but choke up in competition? Freezing up (or what I call lack of trust) in competition is a common challenge for many athletes. Does your performance feel tight, controlled, or lack of freedom when you compete? Why do athletes tense up and lose trust in their skills when they compete? Athletes lose trust for many reasons. Here are a few:
– They worry too much about your competitors (intimidation)
– They become too analytical about your performance (over control)
– They are anxious or scared to lose (fear of failure)
– They try too hard to perform perfectly in competition (perfectionism)
– They can’t transfer their hard-earned practice confidence to competition
If your mind is getting in the way during competition, what’s the solution? The first step is to understand how you are sabotaging your game in competition.
Do you focus too much on having perfect form during a game? Do you try to be perfect when performing? Does your coach over-coach you right before game time and you try to do everything the coach says? Are you afraid to make mistakes? Once you understand how you’re getting in your own way, you can address it and make changes.
Why is it important to trust your physical skills?
In order to trust, you need to let go of trying too hard to perform your learned skills. It is paramount that you are able to perform spontaneously and intuitively. Here are four mental training tips to help you take your practice to competition and trust you skills:
1. Leave practice on the practice field
Learn to trust in what you practiced that week. Your practice is over and now is the time to become a performer in competition and “let it happen.”
2. Perform in the here-and-now
Let go of how well or correctly you are performing. Avoid over analyzing the last shot, play, or routine. Keep your mind focused on one point or shot at a time, not the past mistake.
3. Keep your performance simple
Avoid trying to think about the six things your golf instructor or hitting coach told you to do. Think about one feeling or image, such as see the hoop or target and trust your shot.
4. Commit to winning ugly and to getting the job done when you compete
Let go of trying to perform perfectly with no mistakes and think about getting the job done efficiently. I call this performing functionally or winning ugly.
Your Mental Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn
Have you wondered why an athlete can perform so differently in competition compared to their practice performance?
Failing to perform well in competition is the number one reason athletes seek out mental game coaching. It’s a sign that your mental game is stifling potential-when your game is tentative or cautious in competition. Many things explain why athletes struggle to perform up to their ability in competition…
These might include:
- They perform too cautiously due to fear of failure
- They fear disappointing a parent or coach and play it safe
- The want to win too badly and can’t stand losing
- They can’t trust their skills when it counts and over control
- They might have self-doubt about their skills and lose confidence
- They expect to perform perfectly and get frustrated when they don’t
These are just a few examples of why athletes don’t perform their best in competition. I know how frustrating it is to see athletes self-destruct in competition. Why would you spend so much time training to blow it in competition with a poor mental game?
What can be done to improve in competition?
- Do you just work harder and be more patient with results?
- Do you learn how to focus better the next time?
- Or do you stop and look at how your mind might be getting in the way?
With the athletes I work with everyday, they want to improve in competition, but usually focus on the wrong things.
They do not take responsibility and tend to blame other things:
- Athletes blame their faulty technique and make hasty changes
- Athletes blame their circumstances and change teams
- Athletes fault their equipment and look for newer or better stuff
- Athletes blame their coaches or parents for putting pressure on them
- Athletes blame officials for making bad calls or throwing the game
But these are all just excuses that mask the real culprit: A lack of MENTAL TOUGHNESS!
Your Confidence Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn
Mental Coaching for Athletes
Do difficult circumstances negatively affect your performance in competition?
Is it hard for you to overcome obstacles and focus on your game?
Defeatism affects many athletes who focus on their struggles instead of their potential.
Have you ever approached a game or competition where you focused on negative circumstances and just resigned yourself to losing? During difficult times, your emotions become intense and you become overwhelmed with negative thoughts…You become short-sighted and see no end to your difficult circumstances…
Your will to win and desire to overcome obstacles becomes severely wounded and it becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand. Resiliency is a term used to describe an athlete or team’s ability to bounce back.
Resilient athletes refuse to give up or back down. Resilient athletes fight on and use adversity as a means to raise their level of play. Resilient athletes are determined to find a way to move closer to their goals.
The Mexican National Soccer Team is competing in the 2014 World Cup despite some difficult circumstances. Mexico compiled a 2-3-5 win-lose-draw record in World Cup qualifying last year and barely made it into the biggest international soccer tournament. Mexico failed to score in half of its qualifying games.
During that 10 game qualifying span, the Mexico Soccer Federation had a revolving door of personnel including four coaches and about 50 players. Mexico’s coach Miguel Herrera has challenged his team to “make history” raising their expectations at the World Cup. Mexico was resilient in their 1-0 victory over Cameroon in their opening World Cup game. A couple of controversial offside rulings negated two scores by Mexico in the first half but Mexico kept their focus, fought hard and scored about an hour into the game.
“We never gave a thought to the referee at halftime. What we said to the boys is that we had to be concentrated at all times. They never lost the attitude and we always had the result in our mind,” said Herrera.
Mexico’s fighting spirit and positive attitude are a result of Herrera’s belief in his team.”We have a team that can be world champions. We are convinced of this.”
Try these tips to develop your resiliency and challenge yourself to new heights:
1. Develop a never-give-up mentality. You create your history in the present. Keep pushing forward… “Now” could be the time you turn the momentum in your favor.
2. Look at tough circumstances as challenges to rise above… Challenge yourself to find a way to move closer to your goals. Write down 3 specific things you need to accomplish in practice to help you stay focused on solutions instead of problems.
3. View good breaks breaks or bounces as a sign that momentum can turn in your favor. Too often athletes look at bad breaks as a sign they don’t have it today.
Your Mental Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn[via the Moment Sports Blog: Mental Coaching for Athletes]
Do you (or your athletes) find it difficult to perform at a high level when playing against talented teams or athletes?
When faced with daunting odds, is it hard for you to grind it out and keep fighting?
Can you think of a competition when you felt the other athletes were stronger, better and more talented than you or your team?
Some athletes approach these competitions with trepidation and think, “We have never advanced in this tournament in the past. How can we possibly compete against these teams now?” Your fear of losing is through the roof and your mindset shift to trying not to lose too badly or embarrassing yourself. This defensive style of play only causes you to avoid making mistakes as you allow the opposition to dictate the flow of the competition. You make a mistake and your opponent capitalizes on your mistake and scores.
Part of bouncing back requires you to change your perception when playing tough competition. You want to reframe these competitions as challenges. Challenges aren’t meant to stop you but to help you raise your game to the next level. By changing your mindset, you become better equipped to battle and be competitive. And, who knows, maybe the opposing athlete or team makes some mistakes and places you in position to win the competition.
In the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. team won its group for the first time since 1930. In the round of 16, the U.S. was eliminated by Ghana, 2-1 and finished in 12th place according to FIFA’s ranking system. The following year, Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to coach the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to help the team get over the hump and challenge for a World Cup title. Klinsmann has worked diligently to change the mindset of his team as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup.
How is it possible for the US team to succeed at the World Cup?
First, Klinsmann wants his team to view each game as a challenge instead of focusing on the difficulty of playing tough competition.
“It is one of the most difficult groups of the whole draw. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger, but that is what the World Cup is all about. We are looking forward to the challenge and we don’t see ourselves as any kind of outsiders. If you want to get into the top 10 or 12 teams in the world you have to beat these guys,” he said.
Second, Klinsmann wants the U.S. team to focus on their game and dictate the flow of the game: “American nature is to take the game to our opponents. We don’t want to just react to them.”
Try these tips to raise your game to the next level against tough athletes or teams:
- View each competition as an opportunity to improve your performance and rise to the challenge. This keeps the focus on you and not your opponents.
- Use a game plan to dictate the flow of the game and play your style of game instead of waiting for the opposing team to bring the game to you.
- Avoid self-intimidation. Focus on your talents and abilities instead of getting caught up in the strengths of the opposition.
Your Mental Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn
Does a bad game or competition ruin your self-confidence?
Does a poor performance affect your ability to play well in future competitions?
Can you think of a time when you were dominated in a game or competition? You may have started thinking, “I’m horrible… Maybe I should quit.”
At your next practice, you don’t practice with as much vigor… Your preparation is less than adequate for your next competition and… you lose again. We see too many athletes that ride the confidence roller-coaster… Self-confidence doesn’t ensure that you will win every competition. Instead, confidence is a belief in your ability to perform well. Having stable confidence allows you to quickly get over losses… Just because you lost doesn’t mean you no longer have the ability to compete at a high level. Confidence affords you the chance to succeed at the next competition. By not dwelling on negative consequences, you worry less about the losing (the fear of failing). With confidence, you can focus on your strengths and the upcoming competition and increase the enjoyment of the activity and future successes. Serena Williams, ranked No. 1 in the WTA, suffered one of her worst Grand Slam losses (6-2, 6-2) in the second round at the 2014 French Open. Garbine Muguruza, ranked No. 35, dominated every aspect of the match. Serena was broken in five of eight games and had 29 unforced errors with only eight winners.In the post-match interview, Serena stated, “It was one of those days.” In 2012, Serena lost in the first round of the French Open, maintained her confidence and looked for a way to bounce back. Serena enlisted the assistance of French coach Patrick Mouratoglou and quickly rebounded from her French Open setback by winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and two gold medals at the London Olympics. Serena went 78-4 with 11 titles, including at the 2013 French Open and 2013 U.S. Open. Mouratoglou stated Serena reacts positively to adversity: “She’s definitely the kind of person that, when something bad happens to her, is always able to react. It’s really something that she has in herself. When she has a bad loss or she’s really down… it’s also a source of motivation for her to come back even stronger.” In her post-match interview, Serena displayed the confidence of a champion despite the lopsided loss: “I’m going to go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again.” It’s Serena’s confidence that allows her to maintain a positive perspective and bounce back from a tough loss: “It’s great sometimes… to get knocked down, because you have to get back up. I love getting back up. I love the challenge.” Try these tips to maintain your confidence after a competition:
1. Keep sports and competition in perspective. Everyone has a bad game or performance. Like Serena said, “It’s one of those days.”
2. Learn from the competition. Take time to objectively review your performance. What can you work on to improve your game? How can you use the lose to grow and increase your resolve to be even better?
Boost your self-confidence with these tips and improve your performance tomorrow.
Your Mental Coach,
Dr. Patrick Cohn
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