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How to Overcome Performance Anxiety: A Guide for Young Athletes

Performance anxiety is a common experience for many young athletes. Whether you're a

seasoned competitor or just starting out, it's normal to feel nervous before a game or competition. However, if your anxiety starts to interfere with your performance or enjoyment of your sport, it's important to address it. In this guide, we'll explore strategies for overcoming performance anxiety and unlocking your full potential as a young athlete.

  1. Identify the source of your anxiety. The first step to overcoming performance anxiety is to identify the specific source of your anxiety. Are you worried about making mistakes, failing to meet expectations, or letting down your team? Understanding the root cause of your anxiety can help you develop effective strategies for managing it.

  2. Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your nerves and reduce physical tension. Incorporate these techniques into your pre-game routine to help you feel more centered and focused.

  3. Reframe negative thoughts. Negative self-talk can exacerbate performance anxiety. Instead of focusing on potential failure, try to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and realistic way. To do so, use my 3Rs method:

    1. Recognize: realize that you are talking to yourself in a negative way. You can tell yourself: "Stop it!".

    2. Reframe: now tell yourself something that is motivating. Try to "pep talk" to yourself. You can tell yourself: "Come on! You can do it!" You must repeat this over and over in your head, or even speak it loudly. It can take a few second or even a few minutes. It does not matter: at some point, you will start believing in yourself again!

    3. React: now is the moment to shift your focus on the task at hand. What is the one action that you can focus on right now, that will help your performance? For example, in a swimming race you can focus on "high elbow catch", or "sliding" more in the water; or, in a football match, you could focus on making forward moves and get away from your opponents, or being aggressive and "press high". The goal is to focus your attention on the action.

  4. Set achievable goals. Setting realistic and achievable goals can help build your confidence and reduce anxiety. Break down your goals into small, achievable steps, and focus on the process of improvement rather than just the end result. This step is done mainly in training, and then you will move it to competition. Remember: the goal is to improve yourself, not beating your opponents. This will come, but only as a side effect of your own consistent personal improvement!

  5. Seek support from a Mental Coach, which must be a licensed psychologist: anxiety is a mental health issue. In fact, if performance anxiety is interfering with your ability to enjoy your sport, or perform at your best, seeking support from a mental health professional is the key to recover and even to grow stronger than ever before. A licensed therapist can help you develop coping strategies and work through underlying issues that may be contributing to your anxiety.

Remember: Performance anxiety is a normal experience for young athletes, but it doesn't have to hold you back. By identifying the source of your anxiety, practicing relaxation techniques, reframing negative thoughts, setting achievable goals, and seeking support from a mental health professional, you can learn to manage your anxiety and perform at your best. It's okay to feel nervous: actually, being nervous is equal to being excited – what matters most is how you respond to that excitement.


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