Here are the main concepts we unpacked to help athletes overcome performance anxiety:
Building Up the Context
Athletes, coaches, parents, and fans alike often attach too much meaning to the event or game.
Athletes then build up the context in their mind and get too hyped up for a particular opponent, ‘pressure’ situation’, or a ‘must win’ game.
As a result, the context becomes overwhelming and the athlete mentally falls apart, they panic or hesitate on the field of play, and choke under the pressure.
In last year’s Stanley Cup final, Tampa Bay Lightning all-world defenceman Victor Hedman was asked about how he and his teammates are able to maintain a high level of play in their third straight Cup finals. His response was “Easy, we never let the moment be bigger than any one particular play”.
This was a brilliant response.
The ability to detach from the context and be dialed into the task at hand is the key to being totally present.
This mindset allows them to have trust and faith, not only in their own abilities, but those of their teammates as well. It’s no surprise they have been the Gold Standard for culture and excellence for the better part of a decade.
Do or Die
As alluded to above, the language we use with ourselves and others will influence our mindset.
One of the most common lines in sports is that it is a “do or die game.”
This is partially true – on one side yes if you lose the game the season is over.
But is your career over? Is your life over?
I exaggerate the point because many athletes build up the context to feel that way.
Instead, you want to frame the event as an opportunity, not a threat – turning pressure into privilege.
Similarly the common verbiage of ‘Need to, Have to, or Should’ can provoke a state of fear.