Managing Competition Anxiety

"Feeling overwhelmed before a big game? You're not alone. Learn to manage competition anxiety with tips like music, breathing exercises, and positive self-talk."

Topics in this article
Confidence , Focus

Game time, baby! That rush of adrenaline before a big competition is unbeatable. But what if it starts becoming too much to handle? Nerves are totally normal in sports, but when it starts to impact your performance, it’s time to take a closer look. You might be experiencing competition anxiety.

When we get worked up about competing, it can feel like our bodies have a mind of their own. Our heads are all over the place, our stomach feels upset and we just can’t seem to focus. Maybe deep down, we know it’s just anxiety talking, but it can be really tough to calm down and stop feeling anxious in these moments.

Can you relate? Keep reading!

You’re not alone in feeling this way. Many athletes struggle with competition anxiety. But if we don’t learn how to manage it, it can seriously mess with our game and potentially make us lose interest in our sport altogether – and nobody wants that! That’s why we’re sharing some of our top tips and techniques for managing competition anxiety. After reading this blog, you’ll have the tools and confidence to take control of your nerves and give your best performance yet.

WHAT IS COMPETITION ANXIETY?

Competition anxiety is a feeling of nervousness or uneasiness that athletes can sometimes experience before or during an event.

Athletes can experience competition anxiety due to various reasons, such as:

  • Pressure to win or perform well

  • Trying to impress college coaches

  • Unrealistic expectations set by athletes themselves, coaches, parents or peers

SIGNS OF COMPETITION ANXIETY IN ATHLETES

Athletes who experience competition anxiety may display one or more of the following signs:

  • Intense feelings of worry and fear

  • Physical symptoms like sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, upset stomach, muscle tension or headaches

  • Engaging in negative self-talk

  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task

  • Overthinking or racing thoughts

TIPS FOR MANAGING COMPETITION ANXIETY

Now that you know what competition anxiety is and how to spot it, let’s discuss effective ways to manage it. As former athletes, we’ve experienced our fair share of pre-competition jitters and have discovered techniques that work. But it’s important to mention that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one may not work for you, so don’t get frustrated if one technique doesn’t work. Be open to trying different ones until you find what works best for you.

So, what do you say? Ready to tackle competition anxiety head-on? If so, check out these proven techniques that can help you calm your mind and regain focus in moments of anxiousness.

Listen to music

Have you seen the commercials for “Beats by Dre” starring Simone Biles, Lebron James and other famous athletes? While they may be major endorsement deals or platforms for product exposure, the truth is listening to music before competition can greatly relieve nerves.

Hearing, and therefore feeling, a beat, and repeating words or phrases you know and like, can do a couple of things. It can take you away from the pressure of the moment and allow your mind to focus on something that feels good. At the same time, depending on the lyrics or the pace of the song, music can get you super hyped or relaxed and focused.

Concentrate on your breathing

It may sound silly, but something as simple as breathing can be a powerful tool when it comes to managing competition-related stress and anxiety. Deep breathing exercises can lower your heart rate, clear your mind and bring you back to the present moment.

Here, let’s try one together. This exercise is known as box breathing:

  1. Place your hands on your stomach and clear your mind.
  2. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four in your head. Imagine drawing a line up one side of a box as you inhale.
  3. Hold your breath for four counts, drawing the line across the top of the box.
  4. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of four, drawing a line down the other side of the box.
  5. Hold for four counts, completing the last line across the bottom of the box.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 until you feel calm and relaxed.

Practice positive self-talk

Mantras and affirmations can have a huge impact on your performance. When you find a phrase or saying that really speaks to you, it can give you the extra boost of confidence you need to succeed.

Use them regularly and consistently, especially during moments of self-doubt or stress, and see how they can positively impact your mindset and performance. Here are some to try:

  • I am strong and capable.

  • I am focused, determined and in control of my performance.

  • I am fully present in this moment, ready to perform at my best.

Let go of any muscle tension

Have you ever noticed how tense your body gets when you’re stressed or anxious? Tense muscles can lead to a number of health-related issues when you’re competing, including a higher risk of injury. One technique that helps many athletes release muscle tension caused by stress and anxiety is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).It’s like a mini workout for your muscles, but instead of building strength, you’re letting go of tension and stiffness.

The best part is that you can do it anytime, anywhere – even in the locker room before the game. Start by tensing up your feet, holding it for a few seconds, and then releasing. Then move on to your legs, stomach, arms, shoulders and even your face. The more you practice, the more in tune you’ll become with your body, leading to improved performance and increased confidence during competition.

Establish a pre-competition routine

Creating a pre-competition routine can make a big difference for athletes who struggle with competition anxiety. By establishing a routine that feels familiar and predictable, you can effectively manage your nerves and feel prepared – mentally and physically!

Your routine should be as unique as you are and make you feel confident and ready to take on the competition. For example, you may have a specific warm-up routine that you always do, listen to a particular song or playlist or engage in a breathing exercise to calm your mind and body. The key is to identify what works best for you.

Once you’ve found a routine that works, make it a habit and stick to it!

Build your support squad

Lean on people! Your family, friends, coaches and teammates can be a great source of support and encouragement as you work through competition anxiety. Even just talking to someone about how you feel can make a big difference! They may have had similar experiences and can offer guidance or reassurance. There are also resources beyond your inner circle that can be valuable in managing competition anxiety, like seeking guidance from professionals and mindset coaches.

HOW TO REDUCE ANXIETY BEFORE COMPETITION

To reduce anxiety before competition, figure out what triggers it. Once you know your triggers, prepare for those situations by using techniques to calm your mind and feel in control, such as deep breathing, listening to music and practicing positive self-talk.

We hope the tips that we’ve shared with you can be a helpful starting point on your journey to overcoming competition anxiety. Remember that setbacks are a natural part of the process, so don’t give up if you aren’t seeing immediate results. With perseverance and the right mindset, you can learn to manage your anxiety and get back to doing what you do best. Keep trying new techniques, don’t be afraid to ask for help and above all, be kind to yourself. You’ve got this!


Want to take your mental performance training to the next level? IMG Academy+ mental performance workshops and additional resources on the IMG Academy+ app are now available for NCSA MVP members. You can also sign up for personalized one-on-one mental performance coaching from anywhere in the world developed by the experts at IMG Academy through IMG Academy+.

Want to learn how to improve your ability to handle pressure, focus better, and become more resilient? Explore IMG Academy+ mental performance coaching.

Learn More
What’s your mental performance score?

Take our free, researched-backed assessment to see how you rate for commitment, confidence, resilience, focus and handling pressure.

Share this IQ

You might also like

Download our full magazines