Pre-race jitters are brutal. The confidence gained during practice quickly disappears. It’s replaced by all sorts of crazy thoughts along with feeling out of sorts.
Athletes from all sports are prone to pre-performance anxiety during their competitive career. The anxiety cycle prior to the race is enough to throw off your warm-up routine. When focus is so important for high performance, overwhelming anxiety can lead to a poor start.
If pre-performance anxiety was a one-time phenomenon as an initiation to racing, that would be acceptable. So many athletes repeatedly suffer from a bout of anxiety prior to their event.
It’s similar to stage fright or fear of public speaking. Same experience, different venue. When the hours, minutes and seconds leading up to the start are filled with doubt, fear and worry it can be debilitating.
Athletes suffering from pre-performance anxiety get sick in the bushes prior to the start, fantasize about injuries to withdraw from the race, end up having a poor start or becoming blocked from reaching their full potential.
As a rower I’ve suffered from this as well. Prior to the start of a regatta my stomach would turn to mush. Thankfully I had access to the port-o-potties. Then I would give myself an out, maybe I really don’t have to race this course because … the weather, the competition, the timing. Any excuse to relieve my misery.
Anxiety is not straightforward. Three factors contribute to pre-performance anxiety.
- Thoughts – fears, doubt and worry create cognitive anxiety. Your mind races from one fearful thought to the next.
- Body – the rush of adrenaline released prior to a race contributes to somatic anxiety. Jitters, dry mouth and stomach upset is your bodies natural response to stress.
- Self – your experience and belief in yourself impact self confidence. Releasing inner critical thoughts creates a battle within.
Pure talent is not enough to overcome anxiety. A burning desire to compete with confidence along with a powerful need for excellence is a strong combination for change. Yes, change can happen.
Traditional sports psychologists emphasize relaxation, visual imagery and cognitive restructuring to help relieve pre-performance anxiety. These excellent tools ought to be part of every athletes training routine. But that is like making a cake and leaving out the most important ingredient. No where do traditional psychologists talk about your energy.
The energy drain experienced from negativity is a real concern. You spin out of control as you focus on what is not going well, how badly you are feeling and the unwanted critical thoughts in your head. The energy required for high performance is being used to battle anxiety.
Following the P.O.W.E.R. frame outlined below is a useful tool for releasing your anxiety. Instead of being victim to factors outside of your control, let’s turn the tables and focus on what is within your control.
Prepare – Along with your ideal game plan also create Plan B. Create your default plan ahead of time to minimize stress due to the unexpected.
Observe – With a clear mind, avoiding any judgment notice your surroundings and the conditions prior to the event. An ideal opportunity is to practice on the course prior to your event.
Warm-up – Develop a detailed pre-race strategy which includes a physical and mental warm-up.
Energy – The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is my favorite approach for managing pre-performance anxiety, physical discomfort and all energy draining factors. You are so tuned into the effects of the anxiety you don’t even need to say any tapping statements. Just tapping on the different points will begin to reset your energy. As your anxiety reduces begin adding statements to your tapping sequence.
Reframe and review – Once your anxiety feels manageable add reframes to your tapping. By reframes I mean shifting your outlook from the negative to the positive. Change from focusing on what you are trying to avoid to what you intend to accomplish. Now is the time to explore where your strengths lie and what is possible.
The mind-body-spirit approach is comprehensive. Tapping into your energy source, clearing the doubt, worry and fear is required for high performance. Anticipation of the start also causes adrenaline to be released, rushing through your body. Anticipation, unlike anxiety, is a positive perspective.
Using the Emotional Freedom Techniques was a game changer for me. Once I realized I had this tool right at my fingertips I got right to work. Any fear, doubt and worry which I used to battle prior to the start of a race began to vanish.
I would begin my preparation before race day. Preparing my race plan included visual imagery of all obstacles I could possibly encounter. During the visual imagery I would be using EFT to tap away any distractions to avoid interference with my performance. EFT helped me to release any energy around all the potential “what if’s …” helping to minimize my pre-race jitters.
Stop being a victim to your thoughts. Follow the P.O.W.E.R. frame to clear the root of your pre-performance anxiety. Instead of being gripped by nerves, tap your doubts, fears and worries away. The Emotional Freedom Techniques sets the stage for reaching your highest potential. It’s easy to use. Why be gripped by anxiety for one more race? Don’t just take my word for it. Try it to experience the results.
Challenge: Don’t begin anything new on race day. Develop your P.O.W.E.R. frame before your next event. What is causing your pre-performance anxiety? If nothing comes to mind then think about your last event when you had those race day jitters. Write down all of your what if’s. Once you discover the source for your fear, doubt and worry then you can begin to tap it out using EFT.
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