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How can you improve your sports performance anxiety?



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When you think of sports performance, the first things that come to mind might be strength, agility or speed. However, there’s an equally important mental component to sports that many people don’t consider unless they’re on the field.

Sports performance is an athlete’s ability to perform their sport to their fullest potential. While it does include physical attributes like endurance, speed and agility, it also means things such as focus, concentration and emotional control. When the mental component of sports performance gets out of alignment, it can cause what’s called sports performance anxiety.

From the “twisties” in gymnastics to the “yips” in baseball, sports performance anxiety can tank an athlete’s ability to perform. Studies have shown that the higher an athlete’s anxiety around their sport climbs, the worse they tend to perform. So, if you’re an athlete struggling with a mental block in your game, how do you get over it? Intentional focus on the physical aspects of your performance can help you overcome your mental block, and a physical therapist can help you address your sports performance anxiety so you can get your head back in the game.

Signs and symptoms of sports performance anxiety

Sports performance anxiety can manifest in a number of ways, including both physical and mental signs and symptoms. Let’s take a look at both of these kinds of signs and symptoms to help you determine if you might be dealing with sports performance anxiety.

Common physical signs and symptoms of sports performance anxiety include:

  • Tremors — Tremors can cause your hands to shake or your feet to twitch when you’re getting ready to perform.
  • Racing heart — Anxiety can cause an overabundance of hormones to enter your system, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which may make your heart beat faster.
  • Hyperventilation — Your breathing may speed up as anxiety takes hold, making you feel as if you’re choking or can’t quite catch your breath.
  • Muscle tension — Holding tension in your body may make your muscles feel so tight they become painful. You may also notice tension or pain in your head.
  • Bathroom troubles — When your anxiety ramps up, your body might speed up digestion so it can focus on that flight-or-fight response you’re feeling. If this happens, you may notice cramping or a sudden, strong urge to visit the bathroom.

Common mental signs and symptoms of sports performance anxiety include:

  • Intense fear of failure — Your mind may leap to the worst-case scenario of your upcoming performance. You may imagine losing, worry about letting your team down or fear people laughing at you if you perform poorly.
  • Disrupted focus — You may struggle to concentrate on the game at hand. Instead, you’ll get absorbed in the way others react to your performance.
  • Overthinking — You may temporarily freeze and feel as if you’ve forgotten how to do actions that should be automatic to you. This can include swinging a baseball bat, catching a ball or throwing a pass.
  • Reduced self-confidence — You may begin to doubt your performance abilities and wonder whether winning is even possible.

Whether your sports performance anxiety is mental or physical, it can feel debilitating. However, there are solutions. You don’t have to let your sports performance anxiety get you down or make you doubt your abilities.

How physical therapy can help treat sports performance anxiety

If you’re feeling nervous about your next game, the best thing you can do is prepare your body and your mind. Here are a few ways physical therapy can help you prepare in advance to give yourself the best chance of success:

  • Train your body physically — If you’re worried you can’t keep up with the competition, sometimes the best solution is to focus on enhancing your own performance. Training your physical body may not make all your mental challenges go away, but it can give you peace of mind about your own abilities. Performance training can help you challenge yourself in new ways and show you just how much you’re capable of.
  • Cope with the stress of competition — While stress is a mental aspect of your performance, it can manifest physically. Learning how to physically de-stress can be a valuable tool both before and during games and competitions. Your physical therapist may include techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation into your performance training program to help you manage any anxiety that comes along.
  • Recover from injuries — Getting a sports-related injury can cause a lot of anxiety when it’s time to get back in the game. Sports recovery is important not just physically but mentally as well. If you feel physically well prepared to step back onto the field or court, you’re less likely to have anxiety around your performance as you come back from an injury.

Don’t let sports performance anxiety ruin your game. Our sports therapists at REPAIR SI are highly trained in helping athletes perform better while reducing anxiety. We’re ready to help you hone not only your physical performance, but your mental performance as well. When you’re ready to get a handle on your fears, contact our team for more information on our performance training programs or to schedule an initial appointment.