Sports performance anxiety is real for amateurs and pros alike. In recent years, stars like Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and others have shared their experiences with anxiety. That has been helpful but we can all become smarter about this topic. The pressure to perform, fear of failure, and anxiety before competitions can paralyze even the most talented individuals. In this article, we will explore seven suggestions that athletes and coaches can use to overcome crippling waves of emotion and excel in their respective sports.

  1. Acknowledge and Understand Sports Anxiety:

The first step in conquering sports performance anxiety is to recognize and understand it. Anxiety is a normal human response to stress, and it affects athletes at all levels. By accepting that anxiety is a natural part of the sporting experience, athletes can reframe their perspective and approach it as a challenge to manage, rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

Sports psychologist Dr. Sarah Smith emphasizes, "Understanding that anxiety is a normal physiological response can alleviate the pressure associated with it. It's important to remember that anxiety doesn't define your abilities as an athlete."

  1. Develop Mental Resilience through Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness techniques can help athletes manage their pre-game anxiety and maintain focus. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can be as simple as deep breathing exercises or guided imagery.

Renowned sports psychologist Dr. Michael Brown advises, "Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine, such as visualization exercises and positive affirmations. These practices can help calm the mind and instill confidence in your abilities."  Something as simple as a deep breath before attempting a foul shot in basketball can be a difference maker.

  1. Set Realistic Goals and Manage Expectations:

Setting realistic goals is crucial for athletes. Unrealistic expectations can intensify anxiety and lead to a fear of failure. Coaches and parents should encourage athletes to focus on personal growth and improvement rather than solely on winning.

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles shares her perspective, "I've learned that setting small, attainable goals along the way helps me manage my anxiety. It's about enjoying the process and staying true to myself."

  1. Seek Professional Support:

When anxiety becomes overwhelming, seeking professional help from a sports psychologist can be immensely beneficial. These experts specialize in addressing the psychological aspects of performance anxiety and provide tailored strategies for athletes.

Sports psychologist Dr. Mark Davis advises, "Reach out to a qualified professional who can help you develop coping mechanisms specific to your needs. They can guide you through the process of overcoming anxiety and regaining confidence."

  1. Embrace a Supportive Team Environment:

Creating a supportive team environment can significantly alleviate sports performance anxiety. Coaches, teammates, and parents play a vital role in nurturing a positive atmosphere that encourages athletes to thrive. Open communication and constructive feedback are essential elements in reducing anxiety levels.

Sarah Hughes, an Olympic figure skater, stresses the importance of team support, "Having a strong support system around you can make a tremendous difference. Surround yourself with people who believe in your abilities and can offer encouragement during challenging times."

  1. Emphasize Self-Care:

Self-care is paramount.  Athletes should prioritize their physical and mental well-being by incorporating relaxation techniques, maintaining a balanced diet, and getting enough rest. Adequate sleep and healthy nutrition contribute to increased focus and overall performance.

Dr. Karen Johnson, a sports psychologist, emphasizes, "Remember to take care of yourself outside of your sport. Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in relaxation exercises can all help reduce anxiety levels."

  1. Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity:

Perfectionism and fear of failure often fuel sports performance anxiety. Athletes should embrace failure as an opportunity for growth and development. Learning from setbacks and adopting a growth mindset can transform anxiety into motivation and resilience.

NBA superstar LeBron James believes in the power of failure, stating, "Don't be afraid to fail. Embrace it, learn from it, and keep pushing forward. Failure is not the end; it's the beginning of your next success."

Sports performance anxiety is a challenge, but it doesn't have to be a barrier to success. By implementing these seven key tips—acknowledging anxiety, practicing mindfulness, setting realistic goals, seeking professional support, fostering a supportive team environment, emphasizing self-care, and embracing failure as a learning opportunity—athletes can help manage their emotions and achieve peak performance on and off the court.

We would love to hear what’s worked for your sports anxiety or that of your team. Please send us additional suggestions and stories and we’ll share with our broader community.  After all, the goal is peak performance AND peak fun.  

Join the Sport Fuels Life community today to deepen the roots of your athletic community and access valuable resources to support your athletic journey.