Why do I feel nervousness or fear at sports competitions?

Povezanost misli, osjećaja i ponašanja

Just like athletes, one of the key reasons why you feel nervous or afraid before or during competition is because you are thinking about the things that are not helpful (“As long as I don’t mess up”, “I have to win!” or “I’ll make a mistake again”), and you are acting in a way that is not helpful (i.e. listening to music with a too fast rhythm, not having rituals, …).

Why does what we think and do affect the way we feel?

It is because our thoughts, feelings, behavior, and physiology are mutually connected. The good news is that by changing only one of the components we can change the other two as well.

Namely, we can influence our thoughts and behaviors directly. On the contrary, we cannot do the same with our emotions because they are controlled by our vegetative nervous system which means we cannot choose directly how we want to feel. For instance, try to think of a sad event from your past or think of something sad that might happen to you in the future – surely, this will make you feel sad. A similar thing happens at sports competitions when your thoughts and behavior make you feel nervous or afraid. For example, if right before the competition starts you choose to THINK something like “Oh, I just hope everything goes well and I don’t mess up” and your BEHAVIOR is some long-lasting, exhausting activity, there is a great chance you will FEEL nervous or afraid. You might breathe rapidly, your heart rate might speed up, and your palms might get sweaty (PHYSIOLOGY).

The problem with emotions like nervousness, fear or anger is that they stimulate the body to produce excessive adrenaline, which, in that case, excessively rises the level of intensity you feel. That intensity has a negative impact on athletic performance.

It takes time to become aware of the negative thoughts and to learn the techniques that help control such thoughts. Once you learn how to do that, you will be able to control what you actually can control. After that, it is up to you to choose which thoughts and behaviors you will use. We teach our athletes that thoughts and behaviors are something they can control voluntary and that, if they consciously invest enough effort, they can change their feelings and physiology. Consequently, they will be able to conquer the fear and nervousness at sports competitions. Moreover, they will get a chance to accomplish and achieve everything they have not been able so far because of nervousness and fear.

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