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Looking At Sports Performance Anxiety

Consider the following: a high school wrestler pins and dominates his teammates in practice day in, day out for weeks on end. Not only does he dominate those in his weight class, but he also manhandles those who are upwards of ten pounds heavier. This is not achieved by brute force or strength. It is achieved through technique and skill. Many who have seen this youngster perform assumed that he would go on to win the state championships, acquire a wrestling scholarship to college and then go on to dominate in the NCAA division. Who knows? Perhaps he might even find himself eligible for the legendary Hodge Trophy. Then, the seemingly inexplicable happens. He has his first meet, freezes on the mat and loses decisively and embarrassingly. Ok, perhaps he had a bad day. The only problem is, is that he repeats this same deplorable performance again and again all while dominating in training. This, of course, brings about the question as to how someone could perform so poorly in a competition when he does so well in training. The answer here is sports performance anxiety and it is endemic to all sports.

Sports Performance Anxiety Defined

What sports performance anxiety refers to is that instance where an athlete ‘freezes’ when placed in front of an audience. The skill level of the athlete (and this occurs in all sports) is diminished due to nervously and insecurity of performing in front of an audience. Basically, fear of failure becomes overwhelming, performance anxiety sets in and the ability to perform at an acceptable level is eliminated. So, the problem does not center on athletic skill as much as it deals with the psychological aspects of performing in front of a crowd.

Drills To Reduce Performance Anxiety

One of the best drills to reduce performance anxiety in an athlete would be to surround the athlete by a number of screaming teammates who are ordered to heckle the athlete as he performs. No, this is not hazing as the heckling is really designed only to distract and not to insult. (Heckling could even be eliminated and replaced with having everyone cheer the opponent exclusively) From this minimal drill, the athlete learns to “tune out” a crowd and not succumb to anxiety derived from the audience.

This is but one example of a drill that can be performed and there are many others that can be employed. The lesson here is that any type of stage fright can be ‘treated’ and circumvented and it can be done easily and effectively in a short period of time.

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