Successful athletes are able to turn the stress of competition into motivation. Being able to turn fear into excitement is an important part of achieving peak performance.
Some of the most popular and successful professional athletes seem to be able to rise to the challenge when their team needs them the most. Examples of this are:
- Quarterbacks who march the team down the field and score with less than two minutes on the game clock
- Basketball players who can drive to the basket in the final seconds of the fourth quarter
- Baseball players who knock in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning
Anxiety is a natural and healthy part of competitive sports. And though other athletes may have trained just as hard and are just as talented, some of them seem to perform better under pressure. Being able to use stress in a positive way can help an athlete achieve peak performance.
Can anxiety hurt an athlete’s performance?
If athletes can’t control their anxiety, they will have a hard time competing. Stress can lead to a lack of focus and can worsen the athlete’s performance. Anxiety over poor performance can lead to more stress. Here are some examples of how stress can hurt an athlete’s performance during competition:
- Golf. Many golfers face a problem called the “yips.” The yips are jerking movements that golfers make when they are under stress. They usually happen when trying to putt, and can add almost five strokes to a round of golf. The yips are more likely during times of stress or difficult shots from awkward positions.
- Tennis. During a tennis match, players must be able to relax and focus. Poor returns or serves can upset players and create negative thoughts. Players who have problems with anxiety will have a hard time letting go of these thoughts. When this happens, they won’t be able to concentrate on the next shot and will under-perform.
- Running. Long-distance runners must be able to control negative thoughts. If a runner becomes anxious about his time or speed, he or she may try to run faster. This can lead to injury, exhaustion and an even slower time.
How can you use your stress to succeed in sports?
If an athlete can’t manage his stress, he is likely to “choke” – or under-perform – during competition. But if the athlete can manage anxiety, he can use the stress to perform better. Being able to channel stress into a good thing is a mental challenge. The key is to turn the negative parts of stress into positive parts of competition. Here are three tips for using stress to achieve peak performance:
- Be calm. Stress can increase an athlete’s heart rate, tighten muscles and change reaction times. A few deep breaths will help relax the body and can make it easier for an athlete to focus. Professional athletes describe stressful situations as times when their body is alert, but their mind is calm.
- See success. During times of anxiety, it’s important to turn bad thoughts into good thoughts. If an athlete can picture in his mind succeeding at his sport, he can start to focus his stress in a positive way. Visualizing or imagining that he makes the shot or scores the point will help him focus on the play, not the stress.
- Turn fear into excitement. Stress and excitement are similar emotions. The difference is fear. Stress is fear of a future event, while excitement is hope or anticipation for a future event. When athletes change stress into excitement, they create a positive mental picture of what is about to happen. Excitement will get the mind and body working together to succeed.
When athletes control stress and use it in a positive way, they can be more successful than other athletes who are just as talented and fit. Anxiety can be used to help enhance athletes’ abilities and can help them achieve peak performance.