How to Manage Anxiety in Competitions

Play Confidently and Avoid Outcome Thinking

How anxious do you become during stressful moments in competitions? Would you describe yourself as an anxious athlete?

Anxiety doesn’t just happen in sports. Even in championship games, the event itself doesn’t cause anxiety. Why do so many athletes become anxious in competitions?

Two reasons contribute to anxiety in sports.

One cause of anxiety for athletes is labeling yourself as an “anxious athlete”. If you believe you are an anxious athlete, you will see it come true. You feel helpless to change or trying to manage anxiety. In essence, you become a prisoner of your anxiety.

For instance, anxious athletes rarely perform well under pressure. If a tennis player labels himself an anxious athlete, he will expect to be anxious and choke under pressure.

Another contributor to anxiety is the belief that you cannot control your emotions. The truth is you control your emotions–not the situation. If you believe you can’t control your emotions when you experience negative emotions in a game, this increases your anxiety.

A pitcher who gives up a tying homerun in the ninth inning will understandably become angry, frustrated, or agitated. Those emotions are normal. Burying negative emotions compounds the problem. The goal for the pitcher is to regain composure and focus on the next batter.

The question then is how can you manage your emotions in competitions?

If you BECOME anxious, then you can BECOME relaxed or composed.

You can manage your situation by re-interpreting the situation, challenging your thoughts or utilizing a relaxation strategy.

When you apply these simple strategies, you will feel you are capable to rise to competitive challenges with confidence.

PGA golfer Hideki Matsuyama won the 2021 Masters tournament, his first career Major championship victory. Heading into the final day of the tournament, Matsuyama was winning by four-strokes and was very nervous at the start of the round.

MATSUYAMA: “My plan this morning was to wake up about 9:30, but needless to say, I arose much earlier than that and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I came to the golf course early. Had a really good warm-up. I felt really good going to the first tee, until I stood on the first tee, and then it hit me that I’m in the last group of the Masters Tournament, and I’m the leader by four strokes. And then I was really nervous.”

Despite his nerves and all the “what if’s”, Matsuyama was able to keep his composure, manage his strong emotions and win by one stroke.

You have the capacity to manage your emotions in any competitive situation. You are the director of your experience and ultimate influence your performance.

Managing Anxiety in Stressful Competitions:

First, realize that most anxiety is about fear of failure and worry about outcomes. When you worry about losing or embarrassing yourself, you will feel anxious…

Next, you want to embrace the pressure of the moment as the reason why you train so hard.

But how your interpret the pressure is up to you. Try to put competition into perspective and know this will not be the last competition you will have. You will have many other opportunities. And make sure you let go of thinking about the outcome and the consequences of the outcome.

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