It's 21-20 with 5 seconds left on the clock. From 35 yards out, the field goal kicker lines up with the opportunity to win the game. Heart racing, adrenaline pumping, he knows the game is on the line. Will he come through in this clutch situation? There are certainly ways to make sure that your athletes maintain control under pressure.
The following brings on anxiety and competitive fears:
- Athletes, especially those inexperienced or lacking confidence, will experience more competitive anxiety.
- Fear of success or failure raises anxiety and hinders performance.
- Unfamiliar or unusual situations are often associated with increased anxiety.
Recommendation: Excessive anxiety manifests itself in several ways including muscle tension, fatigue, butterflies, loss of coordination, and narrowing of concentration. But there are techniques to reduce anxiety and competitive fears.
The most obvious is simply to tell athletes to take some slow, deep breaths. This serves several purposes. First, deep breaths reduce heart rate and muscle tension. Second, muscles can't function effectively without adequate oxygen, so by taking deep breaths, muscles will be able to perform properly.
2. Counter irrational thinking
It is important to be aware of the thoughts of your athletes to help them counter any irrational thinking that occurs. This awareness is especially critical in pressure situations. To correct irrational thinking, provide a rational perspective for their distorted perceptions.
3. Increase familiarity
Unknowns are always causes of great concern for athletes. Typically, athletes perform best in areas they are familiar with, e.g. part of the home field advantage is the fact that players are comfortable with their surroundings. A suggestion would be to practice in the unfamiliar surroundings if possible. A great way to prepare younger players for unfamiliar situations or opponents is to have roundtable sessions with veterans in which the older players describe experiences, what things to expect, both positive and negative, and what practical strategies they use to prepare for them.
4. Pre-competitive routines
Ask players to write out and rehearse a routine with which they feel comfortable. These routines can begin as early as the night before the match and conclude after pre-game warm-ups. There is no single best pre-competitive routine. Athletes need to design routines that suit their particular needs. Those who don't have established routines may want to emulate their personal heroes or older team members.
Perhaps the simplest and hardest to believe is effective is the act of smiling. Not laughing, but simply raising the sides of the mouth. This influences feelings in two ways. First, most people connect smiling with being happy and relaxed. Second, research shows that when we smile, biomechanical changes occur that result in a relaxing effect. When you see a highly anxious athlete, simply forcing them to smile can markedly reduce tension.