Pregame Stress and Anxiety: Athletes’ Mental Roadblock to Success


What Holds You Back From Performing Your Best?

Most champion athletes and coaches are aware of the importance of the mental game. If you or your athletes are tense, worry about outcomes, or bring stress from life into competition, performance will suffer.

Does performance anxiety or pregame tension hold you back from performing your best?

Based on the feedback I received from athletes and coaches who have enjoyed The Confident Athlete Series CD and Workbook Programs, pregame anxiety or tension is a snag to a relaxed performance.

For this reason, we are working hard to develop a solution to this mental game roadblock. But I need your help….

Given a choice, most people said they would want “The Relaxed Athlete” to be the next program in The Confident Athlete Series over “The Mentally Prepared Athlete.” This surprised me.

(If you are not familiar with The Confident Athlete CD programs, you can read more about them here:

However, I had several people ask me, “Aren’t these two programs really the same? The Relaxed Athlete would be great, but wouldn’t being mentally prepared lead to ultimate relaxation?”

I thought more about this and they were right – good mental preparation leads to a relaxed and confident performance! So, I decided to combine these two program into one!

Here is where you come in…

I need your input about to the top pregame stressors for you or the athletes you coach. Allow me to prompt you.

Some examples of pregame stress include:

  • Tension or worry about results
  • Feeling unprepared to compete, which leads to anxiety
  • Worry about performing well in the “big game”
  • Training all year and needing to be at your best for one or two events
  • Feeling stressed about the quality of your competition

Most athletes report that the above sources of pregame stress can cause the following:

  • Tight performances
  • Tentative performances
  • Feeling physically tired before competition
  • Getting uptight about mistakes
  • Physical changes such as sweaty palms
  • Lack of trust

To help me help you or your athletes better, please give me your input. What’s your (or your athletes) most common pre-competition stress or worry?

Please respond by posting your comment on my blog below.


Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.,
Master Mental Game Coach

p.s. I want to bring you the most effective mental game strategies possible. What are your or your athletes most common sources of pregame stress or anxiety? Please post your comment on my blog below.

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The Composed Athlete” was developed for any level coach, parent, or junior to professional athlete who wants to improve performance and gain a competitive edge. It does not matter if you are a fledgling junior athlete; or a seasoned professional, plagued with distractions; or you just wanting to learn how to improve your composure…

16 thoughts on “Pregame Stress and Anxiety: Athletes’ Mental Roadblock to Success”

  1. Hi everyone. I know many of my students get tense because they worry about the skill level of the competition. They compare themselves to other athletes and begin to think they might not be up to the challenge.

    This causes a hit to confidence and worry about the final results. Anyone have the same issues going on?

    Patrick Cohn

  2. Hello Dr. Cohn:

    Thanks for keeping me on your mailing list. My Father is out of the Hospital and has several more operations in the coming weeks. I intend to take your course at the in the near future.

    In response to your questions:

    My own experience when competing as a Professional Baseball player or as a ranked Racquetball player were very similar when it came to pre- stess indicators.

    1. Feeling unprepared was the only real anxiety that I remember feeling before a competition. In baseball this could occur during a Spring training game when not enough pitches were seen to aquire a confident state. ( not enough hitting time in cage to feel relaxed) A baseball player when hitting a baseball needs repetition which promotes reflexes,timing and confidence. So, I would say feeling unprepared would hinder proper executation and thus performance. This is evident if you pay attention to the box scores … usually the SAME players during the begining of the season have a low batting average and as they see more pitches during the early season.. their average increases.

    2. Feeling Physically tired. I have experienced this during a Racquetball MidEast Tournament. As you know Dr. Cohn you may play several matches during a day. I lost a match when my mind psychologically said,” you are to tired to keep up the pace” I was not physically prepared to go the distance, even when calling time outs. As Vince Lombardi once said,” Fatigue makes cowards of us all” This of course goes back to preparation… or feeling unprepared. From that moment on I pledged to train much differently for Tournament play. Mind over matter could work for a less physical activity perhaps for a while, however a Racquetball match is not one of them.

    Those would be my two big fears in competition. Being Unprepared and Physically Tired.

  3. Hello Dr.Cohn:

    My response to your question is that my main problem is worrying too much about performing well in order to achieve the result I want. That leads to my feeling unprepared for competition and underconfident

    I hope my comment helps you

  4. hi,
    i compete in .22 rifle and the main worry i find is worrying about the results and this then affects my performance…especially if i am thinking that the other competitors are at a level that i wil never achieve…even if we are competing in same class and have achieved the same international status on our own merits.

    also..the mind!! it plays tricks!! when the mind begins to buckle during a match..thats it..match given away…nightmare situtaion.. as we say in shooting…”you listened to the voices…didnt you???” and usually we have…we listen.the doubt starts..then performance drops..


  5. The very critical moment for me is just the very first moments of the race. I´m ready to compete, feeling focused, confident and so on…But, is like a transition between the “ready to do it” and “just do it”. This is the moment I feel really anxious yet. The very first seconds after the start. I have good reaction time, I already jump ahead but I´m not “really immersed” on the “task”, the performance cues are done on “concious level”, “forced”…Even some hesitation tries to come into the game…So, I come to a deeper level and there´s no anxiety anymore, just do it and have fun….
    Before the game is easier to keep on the “right level” than at its very beginning…between the green flag and the last corner of the first lap, after this I apply almost everything you teached me already…


  7. I always feels stressed before a huge volleyball game and my only solution was to listen to music… That was a very risky approach since some songs with a faster tempo increase the anxiety while others would calm me down and during play I would, as it felt, play with the tempo of the ‘good’ songs.

    I always went to my coach before any game to ask him things I need to focus on, whether it be transition to a certain position during play or the mindset of something. Since I am the libero in volleyball my mindset should always be;
    – I am the best passer on the team
    – I run service reception and I must stay vocal with my teammates so they understand my plan of action.
    I can focus on those thoughts all day and not worry but sometimes my coach would say things like, “your performance will make or break this game.” I ALWAYS got sweaty palms and became nervous of making errors. After a while the mindset that volleyball is a team sport and we win and lose as a team helped me a lot. A whole game cannot realistically be lost because of one player.

    The chirping was a big one too, since you know some schools will chirp you during play. It always made my stomach turn because I knew the intent is to get you off your game and I would let them win before I even touched the court!! How ridiculous of me. I am still working on my own methods since I am all over the place but I have been able to avoid some by warming-up away from the stands and keeping my back to the stands while listening to the coach when giving the pregame ‘pep talk’

    Some days I wouldn’t feel on top of the world and I would start to doubt my abilities as a player……… so yea, not fun when the coach starts yelling to pick up your game 🙁

    Those are only a couple things I have had huge problems with and I hope its not just the history of some libero who plays volleyball in Canada.

    <3 Adrie

  8. When I played college tennis, I worried a lot about performing well. I would worry about this regardless of who I was playing. It didn’t matter if I thought they weren’t as good as me or better than me. But, those worries did increase if I thought my opponents were better than me.

    I worried about this because I wanted my coach to see me as not only a good player, but a consistent player. I wanted my coach to see that I could manage my emotions on the court.

    Because of my worries, I had a hard time relaxing during play… I would either try to hit too hard, or too soft. Sometimes I would not relax until the second set.. and sometimes it was too late. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to relax!

  9. Yes, I do have the same issues going on. I’ve read a lot in your articles about pre-game anxiety and stress being caused by pushy parents, and the kids wanting to perform well. For me, it’s the opposite that makes me nervous before a big competition. My parents don’t take too much interest in my sport, and I support it myself but am also a full-time university student, and my parents would rather I focus on moving out and doing school. However, I take my sport very seriously and want to compete in the world championships. In the qualifying round for the Worlds, I was very anxious because I wanted to qualify so badly and was too worried about the results, especially since I knew my parents would see it as a good opportunity for me to focus less on athletics and more on moving out of the house if I didn’t qualify. I was worried it might be my only shot at going to the Worlds, and that made me put a lot more pressure on myself which affected my performance. In warm up, my coach, unsure of why I was so anxious when I usually do well with nerves, also started saying I don’t look ready, etc, which made me in turn feel like I wasn’t ready, and it took a huge amount of effort to keep my focus. So rather than having pushy parents that make you feel pressured and anxious, it’s my own desire to achieve my goals that puts pressure on me, and the fact that since my parents don’t think sports will help me later in life, I want to achieve even bigger things and get better results so I can show them I’m really serious about it and maybe make them proud of what I’ve accomplished, so that they will agree with my choice of continuing to compete rather than just focus on school.
    Hope that gives you some ideas, I’d be glad to hear anything you have to say about it, because so far I haven’t seen anything quite like this situation in any of the articles or on your site.

  10. Relating to the article about music… As you said, music can have many different benefits. For one, it helps get your mind centered and stops your mental chatter (the very thing that causes anxiety). Secondly, your focus is directed to something that makes you feel good, because you surely aren’t going to throw on some tunes you don’t like.

    Most people make mistakes in their performances because they worry about things that might make them feel bad, like losing. I don’t think it matters much what you are focusing on, as long as it makes you feel good.

  11. hey john,
    yeah i play basketball, and i used to always be intimidated by the size of the competition, but i find it helps heaps if you visualize yourself being physically bigger, stronger an jumping higher than the opposition.

  12. I play golf and I am realizng that I worry too much of other people’s approval and/ or respect. So, I usually start out playing well, and my attitude is fine. But once I have my first bad shot, I tighten up, which of course, makes things worse.
    Then my focus (and confidence) is off because I am worrying about all the wrong things.

  13. Anxiety before a match is what i’ve been experiencing the last 2 summers of playing beach volleyball. Since my beach volleyball partner and I are both inexperienced, we have a hard time playing consistently. This is what I always worry about before a game. I never know which team is going to ‘show up’ to play. I always feel that if something starts to go wrong during the game at all, I can’t turn it around in a positive way because I was already anxious before the game even started.

    After this, it is like a bad domino effect of frustration leading to tightness, tension between us, and poor mistakes.

  14. Lack of proper training facilities and guidance (good coaching) makes you feel unprepared and lack confidence. I play basketball

  15. Hi Dr. Cohn,

    I have racemeets on Sundays and Practice on Saturdays. The problem I sometimes have is if I have a bad day of practice I sometimes feel anxious about Sunday and my confidence often suffers.

  16. I am a figure skater and the thing that concerns me the most is letting my coach and friends down with a bad skate which translates into, you guessed it, a bad skate. The worst part is, I am usually well trained physically and the elements are ones I am very comfortable completing.

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