Overcoming Sports Anxiety: Master Your Mind, Dominate the Game
How many times have you said to yourself, Oh, I just couldn’t get comfortable in the car. I couldn’t get comfortable on the court. I couldn’t get comfortable on the motorcycle. Whatever it is, as an athlete, there’s always a time when we say that the reason we didn’t perform to our truest, highest potential is because we felt uncomfortable.
But what’s fascinating, if not mind boggling to me, is how many athletes stop and accept this phrase and they just let it permeate. They let it exist. It becomes part of their narrative. Listen to interviews. How many times have you heard it? Now here’s the thing. If you just stop for a moment and this goes with anything that faces you or challenges you as an athlete and you just get a little bit curious, meaning ask yourself some questions to gain a little bit of clarity, what you often will find is there is a reason why there is something that is holding you back and oftentimes It comes down to just a better understanding of what’s making you use the words you’re using.
In other words, what feeling exists in your body that’s creating you to describe this feeling as being uncomfortable. So today we’re going to talk about. The feeling that all of us as athletes have stated, which is, Oh man, I just couldn’t get comfortable out there. We’re going to talk about it in detail and give you some strategies on what you can do to overcome it and work with it.
Not so much resist it because don’t forget what you resist persists. So you don’t want to run away from things. You actually want to turn around. You want to lean into them. You want to run towards them. And when it comes to being uncomfortable. So when we talk about being uncomfortable, what’s really happening is oftentimes our body is feeling, or it has been activated when it comes to the sympathetic nervous system.
So we’re either entering fight, flight, or freeze. And what that’s doing is our emotional. State is causing us to either grab the tennis racket too strongly or to grab the motorcycle, uh, with, uh, with our wrists and our hands with too much grip, right? Or maybe just change some of the way that our body naturally interacts with the tools that we have for whatever sport we’re in.
And therefore it feels different. You know, let’s say for example, if you have a tennis racket, or a golf club. If you’re swinging that racket or swinging that club and you just change the amount of grip strength by even just 10 percent an elite athlete is going to feel that difference. And so what we need to do is first start by asking ourselves.
What’s our emotional state and are we entering into that sympathetic nervous system where we’re firing off the fight, flight, or freeze that is causing us to identify and label things as being uncomfortable. Now, that’s one place we can go. And if we do go there and we do find that that’s the source of our problems, then we’ve got a couple other options.
One, we need to always look at things as a challenge and not a threat because we know that if we look at things as a challenge, we get excited, right? And we know that if we look at things as a threat, we get a little stressed and anxious. And we know that by far, this is the most powerful tool that we have.
That’s actually, it’s readily available all the time. But we can use it to very quickly reframe and relabel the sensations we’re having in our body because they’re the exact same sensations for stress and, uh, as it is for excitement. So why don’t we reframe the way that we’re looking at this feeling in our body, right?
Here’s another way to look at it. Oftentimes we’ll feel uncomfortable if, let’s say, for example, We bought a new pair of shoes, or we have a new helmet, or we have some sort of new setup or new vehicle that we’re using or competing with. Well, we’ll say that we feel uncomfortable, but in reality, what are we really saying?
We’re saying that it’s unfamiliar, right? And so the second reframe we can use first is challenge versus threat. Second is, is this just unfamiliar? And what that means, is it just something new? Is it just something different? And then what we’re doing is once again, we’re looking at that through the frame or the eyes of the lens of this isn’t good.
This isn’t bad. I don’t think I can perform, but these narratives are not actually true. They’re false. This is something new. It’s something different. It’s possibly something unfamiliar. So when also you work at things and say, Hey, listen, could this just be something new? Maybe I haven’t gotten enough reps doing this thing or with this thing.
Um, we have riders that go from one team to another, maybe changing from one racket to another. One brand of club to another, right? There’s so many instances where as an athlete, we don’t give enough time to adjust and adapt to the change in feelings. Cause don’t forget our nervous system dictates a lot of our success in sports, especially when it comes to emotions.
And so oftentimes what we want to do is want to be aware of the emotional state we’re in and also be aware of the narratives that are fed from that, right? Now, here’s a third thing we can do as well. Our third opportunity is when we feel uncomfortable, it’s often because there is a degree of uncertainty.
Uncertainty about the results we’re about to get about the future experience. We might have now a couple of different ways. We can look at this. One is if we feel uncomfortable and it’s related to uncertainty, oftentimes that means we might just might. Be putting too much emphasis, value, meaning and importance on a desired result when we should really be focusing more on how we’re going to get to the result, right?
Because how we get to the result is oftentimes something that’s within our control, whereas oftentimes results are outside of our control. So think about it. If it’s tennis, we’ve got another competitor. If we’re playing doubles, we have three other competitors. They are a major. Factor and influential in whether we’ll hit our desired results or not.
However, in that same experience or that same example, um, there are things that we can do to bring our best self to that game, right? And that might be managing our focus, uh, avoiding distractions, managing our nerves, managing our breathing. Um, hitting some flow triggers, try to enter flow state to play loose, right?
There’s so many different things we can do. And so what we want to do is always think about that, which we can control and not focus on that, which we can’t. And that’s why we always talk about process over results, right? And a lot of times people kind of say it’s overplayed, you know, like enjoy the journey, enjoy the ride or.
It’s all about the trust, the process. Right. But like a lot of times people have kind of given that phrase like a negative vibe and a negative connotation because they haven’t explored it enough. And if you, if you get curious and get clear about what uncertainty means and what the process versus the outcome means.
You start to realize that, Hey, when there are things that are out of our control, of course, we’re going to get nervous because we have fear. We, you know, fear of the unknown, fear, fear of other people’s, uh, thoughts, opinions, right? So there’s also a little bit of a fear factor there as well, but we always want to focus on what we can control because that’s really.
The only place that we should be focusing our energy and attention because it’s where the, our true power lies. Right? And so when we talk about uncomfortability, we also talk about, as we said, uncertainty, uncertainty as it relates to results and uncertainty as it relates to the fear of the unknown. And so we talk about the fear of the unknown.
Let’s break that down a little bit. Your body has two goals. One to keep you safe and two to replicate, to keep the species going. That’s it. And for sure, the number one desire your body has is to keep you safe and alive. Okay. So whenever we have, uh, any uncertainty or we look too far into the future, we can oftentimes feel uncomfortable because what the body wants to do is do what it’s always done or do what it’s always experienced, which can only happen.
When we replicate what we’ve done in the past. And if we do what we’ve done in the past. We know by default that we’re going to get the same results. And so we’re trying to improve as an athlete. Um, what holds us back oftentimes is the uncomfortability that relates to the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty, which are the feelings that we experience when we start to step away from how we’ve always done things and what we’ve always done, the, the, what we call familiar.
Into the unfamiliar, the unknown, right? And so we want to reframe the way that we feel uncomfortability, especially when it comes to the fear of the unknown, because we want to lean into fear. You want to say, you know what? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s exciting, right? I don’t know if I’m going to win, but I know how I’m going to play.
You know, I know which version of myself is going to show up. Right. And so we can really control a lot more than we think when it comes to uncomfortability. So think about the things we talked about a lot. Even if you just took one of these items and worked on it for a week, you’d be shocked at the difference.
Or even if you just replayed this, this audio, this video multiple times, you’d start to realize that There is a huge opportunity for us. And so that opportunity lies in reframing and having more clarity and understanding as to what the feeling of uncomfortability means. Because oftentimes if we can change uncomfortability into realizing we’re starting to grow, we can get excited.
It really changes the way that we perform as an athlete. And of course the results we get, thank you so much. Don’t forget to like, subscribe, talk to you soon. And if you want to work with me directly, my name is Dr. Jay Kavanaugh. I’m a mental performance coach. Reach out at behindthebest.co have a great day.