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The DRYWORLD Guide for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Before we started DRYWORLD, we were rugby players. Now, we work with dozens of high performance athletes and teams and more than a few of them experience that dreaded “P word.” And no, we don’t mean “penalty.”

We’re talking about performance anxiety.

The fear of failing in a high-stakes situation, like a buzzer-beater penalty shot, missing a TSN-turning-point field goal, or swimming a slow lap in qualifiers. That overwhelming pressure to perform and achieve can trigger anxiety that impedes your ability to reach your peak athletic performance. Trust us, we’ve been there.

“It’s not about reducing pressure, it’s about building the capacity to embrace more.” — Jonah Oliver 

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Ready to tackle your performance anxiety head on? Here’s the DRYWORLD guide for overcoming performance anxiety.

What is Performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety, aka., choking, isn’t just pressure. At its core, it stems from the fear of judgment, criticism, or embarrassment in situations where your performance is being evaluated (and maybe even analyzed). It also comes from situations where an athlete perceives their abilities to be below what the current situation demands.

Fear floods your body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, creating a rapid heartbeat, excess sweat, trembling, nausea, and a nasty case of negative self-talk. Each of these symptoms severely impair your concentration, coordination, and decision-making, ultimately sabotaging performance while ensuring it happens again and again.

You’re Not Alone

First thing’s first, if you’ve experienced performance anxiety, remember that you’re not alone. An estimated 30-60% of athletes experience some form of performance anxiety throughout their careers. Whether you have choked at a crucial moment in the past or are afraid of messing up in your next game, you have to remember that even the greats have doubted their abilities at one point or another. What matters most is persevering through it.

Now, the crazy (and frustrating) thing about performance anxiety is that while the responses are physical, the experience is all mental. At DRYWORLD, we’re huge on the mental aspect of sports and performance. Your training should always include ways to strengthen your mind—alongside your body—for optimum performance.

Below are six things to try out that will help you strengthen your mind when it comes to your performance.

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6 Tools for Overcoming Performance Anxiety

1. Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques:

Practice deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to calm your body's physiological response to stress. By focusing on your breath and consciously relaxing tense muscles, you can counteract the physical symptoms of anxiety and induce a sense of calmness. Then, during a key game moment, you’ll be able to call on your breathing techniques to quickly calm the body and mind.

2. Visualization and Mental Rehearsal:  

Visualize yourself successfully making it through those key stressful moments in vivid detail. Imagine yourself executing your skills with precision, confidence, and composure. Mental rehearsal helps build confidence, reduces anxiety, and primes your mind and body for optimal performance.

3. Positive Self-Talk and Affirmations:

Challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations and self-talk. Instead of dwelling on potential failures or mistakes, affirm your capabilities, strengths, and past successes. Remind yourself that you are prepared, capable, and deserving of success. It’s also critical to reframe failure as a key learning moment, rather than something you’re destined to do forever. This will help bring you back to the present and ensure a growth mindset.

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4. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome:  

Shift your focus from the outcome of the performance to the process of executing your skills. When you’re only thinking about the win, you’re adding excess pressure to your already high-stress performance. Concentrate on the present moment and the actions you need to take to perform to the best of your ability. By directing your attention to the task at hand, you can alleviate anxiety about the future and perform more effectively in the present.

5. Utilize Stress-Management Techniques:

Incorporate stress-management techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, active rest days, or progressive muscle relaxation into your daily routine. These practices help cultivate resilience, reduce overall stress levels, and enhance your ability to cope with pressure in performance situations. Stress-management and taking a step back from your sport can also help you remember that you actually love what you do.

6. Seek Support and Professional Guidance: 

Don't hesitate to seek support from coaches, mentors, or mental health professionals who can provide guidance and strategies for managing performance anxiety. They can offer valuable insights, constructive feedback, and tailored interventions to help you address your specific challenges and build resilience. Your coaches should care about the mental aspect of your game as much as the physical, providing you with the resources you need to excel.

Here’s a progressive muscle relaxation for athletes you can try out.

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Strong mind, Stronger Performance

Performance anxiety is incredibly common in athletics. By understanding its underlying causes for you and implementing proactive strategies, you can learn to manage and overcome performance anxiety effectively, making you into a better performing athlete. Mental toughness is key to thriving under pressure and unlocking your full potential, so don’t be afraid to try out all of the above techniques. Success is not about the absence of fear but rather the ability to confront and conquer it. So get out there, and get playing your absolute best.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

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