Feeling nervous before a game or athletic event is very common– even the biggest athletes have reported feeling pre-game nerves. Kevin Love, Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, among many others have felt their nerves skyrocket before competing.
Most people would consider feeling nervous as a bad thing because our bodies are hardwired to believe that feelings like anxiety, nervousness, or even anticipation as inherently negative.
But the funny thing is, nervousness is not always a bad thing–in small doses.
Before competing in a sport, being interviewed, giving a speech, or doing anything where it is important for you to perform well, your body needs to feel ready.
We all love to feel completely relaxed. But complete relaxation is not always a good thing–if we are in a state similar to that of settling down for a nap, we aren’t ready for the mental agility it takes to perform well.
So performance nerves can often be helpful–until they are not.
Pre-game nerves vs. Pre-game anxiety… what’s the difference?
There is a difference, however, between pre-game nerves and performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is severe enough nervousness that it impedes a person’s ability to perform well. With performance anxiety, you are much more concerned about failing and it’s difficult to shake off racing thoughts about you not performing well, resulting in worse behavior. It is helpful to consult a licensed psychologist if you are struggling with pre-game anxiety.
With pre-game nerves, your palms might feel sweaty and your hands might shake, but you can still perform well, and in fact, you can often use these nerves to your advantage.
Use pre-game nerves to your advantage
With the pre-game jitters, it’s all about reframing your mindset about the anxiety. For example, if you’re feeling nervous, you can reframe your thoughts as “I am really excited about this challenge and am ready to face it.”
Nervousness is a very similar feeling to excitement but we don’t always think of it that way. Often, we think of nervousness as the feeling of anticipating failure, but in reality, it is just your body’s way of telling you it’s ready to compete.
Other strategies to cope with pre-game nerves
Follow a routine
To help keep your mind occupied, follow a routine right before your athletic event. Nearly all athletes do this–they warm-up, stretch, practice movements, drink water, etc. Doing so keeps you in a moving state, which helps keep your mind from focusing too much on the pressure to perform well.
Talk to your teammates
It’s also good to talk to teammates and those around you before you perform. Like following a routine, talking to others helps keep the focus off of your thoughts. Being social is also a proven way to uplift your mental health.
Work on your body language
Ever heard of power poses? Power poses are “confidence stances” such as leaning forward on a desk, standing with your hands on your hips, or stretching with your arms up. Power poses are actually linked to boosts of testosterone and cortisol levels and can give you a small confidence boost.
Through trial and error using strategies such as these listed, athletes are able to find solutions for their nervousness and even start using it to their advantage.
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