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Feeling Pressure? Get Excited!

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:

  • Losing
  • Losing to a player who wasn’t as good
  • What their parents would think of them after a loss
  • What other people would think of them after a loss
  • Loss of reputation
  • Playing in front of a coach
  • Choking in a pressure situation
  • Ranking going down
  • The lecture in the car on the way home
  • Playing badly and looking bad

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.

  1. Fix your relationship with pressure and challenges: Pressure and challenges are actually what make you a better player as you need them to improve. They test your skills. Get excited about getting better today. Embrace the pressure!
  2. Write / think of all of the positive outcomes that could occur: Improvement, play well, win, improve ranking, going for ice cream after the match, reach a goal, etc.
  3. Take action: Mental Toughness is an action first so start moving your feet, bouncing up and down, walking with confidence and energy, etc. As you are doing this, think of your best performances. Visualize playing your best tennis today. Do this before you play, and more importantly, while you are competing. Be consistent with this throughout your match.
  4. Use music and video to inspire you. Have a favorite player? Watch him/her for 5 or 10 minutes. Use a pump up playlist and visualize playing your best while listening to it.

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.

If you liked this blog post, leave a comment below, share it, or send me an email at brian@performancextra.com. I’d love to hear from you!

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3 responses to “Feeling Pressure? Get Excited!”

  1. Steffani says:

    This post is spot on! I have noticed over the years in competitions that the top players get really excited to play tough matches. Rather than cower from them, they embrace them and can’t wait to compete. This helps them to reach their peak performance.

  2. Kartik says:

    Great article Brian, keep up the good work!

  3. Chris says:

    Thanks Brian for being a positive influence and impact in my life.

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