posted on: May 25, 2017
As a competitor, it’s a near certainty that you get nervous from time to time, both before you play and during competition. Fear is the emotion that drives your nerves. Why is this? What are you afraid of? I was at the New England Academy of Tennis earlier this week and I asked the players these questions, and their answers were revealing:
What do all of these have in common? They are all negative outcomes, and when these types of thoughts are predominant in your mind, you will likely play with fear. Of course, a certain level of nervousness is good – it shows that you care – but we have to control it and keep our thoughts within the bounds of reality. If it’s before the match, none of these negative outcomes has actually occurred yet, so why are you fixated on these? Well, we know that focusing on negative outcomes is part of our survival response as human beings, but our lives aren’t under threat on the tennis court, so aren’t more positive outcomes also possible? Yes! And we need to learn how to redirect our thoughts to WHAT WE WANT, and away from WHAT WE DON’T WANT (unfortunately, the lecture in the car will probably happen no matter what).
Conventional wisdom tells us that when we are experiencing fear in competition that we should attempt to calm ourselves down, but that’s the wrong answer. Moving from a “high arousal/energy” state like nervousness to a “low arousal/energy” state like calmness doesn’t aid performance. Check out this article in The Atlantic Magazine on this topic. Instead, we want to use this high arousal/energy state and channel our emotions from Fear to Excitement.
Sounds easy enough, but how can you do it? Here are 4 things to incorporate into your preparation and performances.
Like any skill in life, this takes practice and it’s a process. In the infographic at the top of this post, you can see that our goal is to continually move ourselves to the right – toward Excitement. We’ll never completely get rid of the fear – and we don’t necessarily want to – but we can use more productive emotions such as excitement, confidence, optimism and positivity to fuel our performances. Use the 4 steps above to keep moving yourself in the right direction.
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