If you ever played a sport growing up, no doubt you remember those pregame butterflies.
Dealing with nervous energy is a part of the process of becoming a competitor.
Too much nervousness, however, and fear of damage, failure, or embarrassment can shut down even the most experienced of athletes. Months or years of hard work can be sabotaged if the mind is allowed to drift into negativity on game day.
The mind, just like the body, can (luckily) be trained to become more resilient and disciplined.
Reframing Anxiety into Confidence
Two simple little reframing tricks come from Dr. Duncan French, Vice President of Performance at the UFC Performance Institute.
French argues that one step to conquering anxiety, self doubt, and fear is shifting “What If” statements to “Want To” statements.
For example, “What if I lose?” can be transformed into “I want to prepare the best I can.” The difference between the two is that the former is “goal oriented” while the latter is “process oriented.” When preparing for any athletic competition, we can only control our effort and our energy. We cannot control the weather, the actions of our opponents, or the opinions of people watching our efforts on game day. Focusing on the process focuses our energy on the controllable items. If we have prepared the best we can, the end result will be something we can be proud of no matter the outcome.
When athletes are struggling with self-doubt the other line of mental defense is to continually focus on self talk that is reassuring. For example, “I’m not in good enough shape” is a statement that takes the athlete’s attention away from his or her own preparation and focuses it on the preparation of others. Not in good enough shape compared to what or who? A more self-assuring, self focusing statement that grounds the athlete into his or her own preparation and skill would be “I am ready to compete optimally.” See how the locus of power shifts back to the individual.
Sharpening a competitive mindset is as difficult as any technical movement pattern an athlete must learn. However, with the right amount of practice and energy, athletes can rescue themselves from their own negativity by capturing and reframing their thoughts in a process oriented pattern that stresses their hard work and preparation over their competitor’s.