People don’t give enough credit to competitive athletes, honestly. Stage fright is so talked about between all of my “theater friends”, but nobody recognizes the anxiety that comes along with try-outs, timed tests, tournaments, games, matches and even sometimes- practice. I row crew and even on the novice (JV) team, I have a really hard time when it comes to tests on the rowing machine and managing my anxiety about it.
Sports anxiety is such a different feeling than other performance related fear, much more of a long term anxiety, and really needs to be addressed, especially within high school populations.
I’ve tried so many different practices but the ones that have worked best for me have been:
- Addressing WHY you’re anxious
Does it decide whether you’re on varsity or JV? Is it because you know the test will be hard? Is it because you have to prove it to your team/friends/family/school?
Where does your anxiety come from? This has been a big one for me. I’ve realized that my anxiety about “erg/rowing machine tests” comes from thinking I can’t do it, and comes in the form of feeling like I’m going to pass out or my muscles locking up right as I start the test.
For some, it might be good to write out why you’re anxious, or talk to a coach or teammate and see if they have any input.
On the other hand, your anxiety might be part of an underlying cause, like an anxiety disorder, that is bigger picture than just this isolated event.
Practicing similar activities to what you have to perform
Going to the field and running your plays or running the same distance you’re being tested on are both examples of ways to do this. I’ve gone down to an “erg” and practiced through my tests alone, either at pace or slowly. Something about getting the pathway in your mind that you can do it sets it up to be much easier.
Thinking of worst possible situation
This sounds ridiculous, but realizing the actual ridiculousness in stressing over this will make you feel infinitely better. Does a bad tryout mean not making varsity? Well, okay- but does that mean your season will be ruined? Of course not. Does that mean your year will be ruined? Not even close. Does that mean your whole high school “plan” will be thrown off? Maybe, but that is so insignificant. Realizing that when it comes down to it- these are all just games, and even if it might suck to not win states in your senior year, it doesn’t mean that your life is over after that.
Positive self affirmation
You’re going to feel really out of place, but looking into a mirror (usually it’s my selfies camera on my phone) and telling yourself that this is so do-able. If your coach/advisor didn’t think it was, they wouldn’t have you play this team or do this test. Telling yourself that you are a strong athlete with so much ability can calm nerves and be a moment of release from anxiety’s tight grasp.
These positive self affirmations can also be repeated right as you begin your performance to remind yourself.
Assess the time it will take
If I’m having a really hard time in a boat, I’ll tell myself that the pain is so temporary. Once I start getting anxious, I try to think about how long my eight or fifteen or thirty minute long piece is and think about how short that really is. If there is twenty four hours in a day and you have to spend one twenty-fourth of those hours doing this, you realize how insignificant that is- even in a singular day.
Though there is no “foolproof plan” for managing sports anxiety, it is not insurmountable. There is also no exact set of steps to take to make it go away forever- these are all suggestions. I suggest trying these and formulating your own plan for dealing with your anxiety.
But, I hope these tips make you feel at least a little bit better-
Happy spring training, keep working hard & Stay Smart!