Mindset For Playing Rivalries

Manage Anxiety in Stressful Games

Do you get psyched up for rivalry games, or does the hoopla surrounding rivalry competitions cause you to feel pressure and anxiety?

Rivalries can be highly motivating for some athletes. These athletes look forward to rivalry competitions to prove their superiority over their opponents. 

In addition, by winning, they also earn bragging rights until the next time they face off. These athletes experience a physiological and mental boost that psyches them up to perform their best.

However, for some athletes, rivalries are competitions filled with anxiety.

Before the competition begins, these athletes experience an intense, prolonged and overwhelming physiological response. This response is caused by excessive anxiety. 

In highly anxious moments, you experience significant negative biological changes: heart rate increases muscles tense up, breathing becomes shallow, and adrenaline surges through the body.

Rivalries change more than our body chemistry. Competing against rivals can adversely affect focus, thinking, decision-making, and emotions.

For example, imagine you are competing against your long-term rival in a mid-season competition. You feel a lot is riding on this competition. 

For days, you have built up this contest to be bigger than it is. When the game starts, you think, “I’m so anxious, I can’t even focus.” 

Instead of immersing yourself in your game, you are immersed in how you feel mentally and physically.

The truth is you have the power to reel in your response and even prevent that negative response altogether.

When you reframe your circumstances, you shrink the importance of the competition. Minimizing the significance of a rivalry lessens the stakes of the contest.

In other words, it is not the most important game but just another game. If you lose to a rival, it carries the same weight as any other competition.

For example, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles have been long-time rivals. Before the 2022 Dallas-Eagles match-up, Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown stated he was aware of the rivalry but not focused on it.

BROWN: “I just don’t take it that serious. I’m not gonna get too caught up in the rivalry. It’s another game, and I’m just trying to do my job so we can go 1-0 this week. Huge division game. Now, that’s the big part about it, trying to get ahead in the division. But all the rivalry, the going back and forth stuff? You’ll never see me going back and forth or doing something I’m not supposed to be doing on the football field. I’m playing football, and I’m trying to win games.”

Focusing on what you need to do to prepare your best and paying attention to your role for the game lessens the pressure, no matter who you play.

Take the word “rivalry” out of your vocabulary. When your teammates, coach, parents, or media hype up a game, remember that the competition has no greater significance than any other game. Keep the focus on you and nothing else.

Pressure is not external to you. You create pressure for yourself when you place importance on an important game.

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