Most athletes feel anxious before and during their competition. They accept performance anxiety as perfectly normal and let it sharpen their focus. This anxiety or excitement is proof that they, and you, care about performance and outcomes. Of course, too much anxiety is uncomfortable and interferes with performance. Let’s take a look at how you can implement your tennis anxiety management.
Tennis Anxiety Management: Go from Panic to Pumped
A moderate level of anxiety or excitement is necessary for optimal performance. In sports, panic is typically an extreme form of performance anxiety. A panic response is therefore an exaggerated mind-body reaction – a false alarm – that can be diffused or redirected. Our instinctive responses to panic are always counterproductive, such as fleeing, isolating ourselves, trying too hard to relax or beating ourselves up mentally. (see Roger Federer the Tennis Legend – Hothead Teenager
If you have a high level of performance anxiety, then you’ve learned a sequence of responses. Once you trigger the sequence, it is difficult to stop the dominoes from falling. Your priority, then, is to stop the sequence early and divert away from the usual path. What you truly fear, if you are willing to admit it, is the embarrassment that you will be humiliated when you fail to perform in the moment and because of that you must suffer the consequences of anxiety and panic.
Panic always eventually leads to the subsiding of anxiety or the appearance of a dangerous player pretending to be inept. Remember, then, that panic is a harmless experience that exists only in your mind and by extension in your body. Panicking is not going crazy, but rather the manifestation of fear of a terrible outcome.
8 Tactics to help you triumph over panic using tennis performance anxiety management
Here are eight tactics you can apply to help you triumph over performance anxiety so that you can fully enjoy your sport and perform at your best. These tactics are not designed to eliminate intense feelings but to redirect them towards a positive outcome.
1 – Be Well Prepared
The more prepared you are for your competition, the less you will fear it. Nothing helps build confidence more than knowing that you are ready for the challenge at hand. Proper preparation comes through paying close attention to feedback from coaches, studying video footage of champions and comparing with footage of yourself, but above and beyond, putting the quality hours in to build your armoury, to enhance your skill set and thus conquer those doubts that manifest in moments of pressure. Without this kind of preparation, performance anxiety is more likely to occur. Before the game, always remind yourself that you have honestly prepared as best as possible.
2 – Nerves Are Natural
It’s normal to be anxious, so don’t concern yourself with what other players might be thinking or how well they seem to be doing. We often don’t suspect that others are overcome with or overwhelmed by anxiety. No matter how calm your opponents appear, they are more likely experiencing the same level of anxiety, or maybe even more so, than you!
3 – Ally With Anxiety
Do not attempt to rid yourself of anxiety; instead, channel it into performing well and talk to yourself about trying to use your anxiety rather than trying to avoid it. Tell yourself “My body is preparing itself to perform”, and “I’ve done well before so I can do it again now!”.
4 – Breathe Evenly And Deeply
Take a series of deep breaths to calm your nerves. Good breathing reduces anxiety by clearing your mind of fog and reducing physical tension. You oxygenate your blood and shift the blood pH from acid to alkaline reducing the acidic effect of stress hormones in your blood circulation system. Simply prolonging exhalation, regardless of inhalation length, promotes the relaxation response, so regulate each breath with a deep inhalation and full exhalation. (See Wim Hof Method).
5 – Get Creative And Use Your Imagination
For instance, give the anxious feeling an imaginary form (example, a firework or fire cracker) then put it in an imaginary safe place or container that will protect you from it. Understand you are bigger and more powerful than this silly, small anxious feeling.
6 – Stay In The Here And Now
Monitor negative future thoughts and worries about winning or losing. The results and outcomes can wait while you remain focused on playing each point to the best of your ability, point by point, game by game, which will bring the desired outcome, set by set and ultimately the match.
7 – Staying On a Positive Thought Channel
Flip the switch from negative to positive self-talk when you are emotionally spiraling down. Release any analysis of the previous mistake immediately and concentrate on the next point to play. Try to talk sense to yourself – feed the good wolf – instead of letting fear run wild – feed the bad wolf. Remind yourself, “Even though I am feeling anxious and uncomfortable right now, I can still play well and reach my goals.” Take a moment between points at the back of the court with your back to your opponent to regain your composure and cancel the previous error from your mind. Refocus on what is immediately next.
8 – Take Yourself Lightly
A competition is an opportunity to test your fitness, challenge the competition and demonstrate how hard you have worked in your preparation. You are not your game. Take what you are doing seriously, but learn to take yourself lightly. Always remember that tennis is what you do and not who you are. Smile. Laugh. Have a good time. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and if you don’t win, “What can I learn from this experience and outcome?”.
To move forward rather than becoming overwhelmed and backing up when anxiety strikes, make use of these strategies presented so that you can channel anxiety into commitment to taking the next step.
Remember that FEAR is firstly FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL and the steps to conquering are to FACE EVERYTHING AND RESPOND. To perform at a Champions’s Level, let the butterflies fly in formation!.
So now you should be armed with the necessary weapons to use your tennis anxiety management approach for your next match. Enjoy reading and good luck with your next competition!
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Excerpts taken from “The Champion’s Mind – How Great Athletes Think Train and Thrive by Jim Afremow PhD. ISBN 978-1-62336-562-2 – An excellent read from a leading sports psychology consultant and licensed counsellor.