We have all experienced a situation where we get nervous or afraid. When the butterflies begin fluttering in our bellies, blood whooshing stirring around the body at a 100 mile per hour and the heart beating like a bass drum at a crazy rhythm like a rave party going off on one. We start to get nervous, afraid, anxious and almost feel like we are about to explode, and not in a good way. This is when the nervous toilet calls begin and we start doubting our knowledge, preparation or abilities.
Are we going to be able to do this? Are we going to fail and look stupid in front of any onlookers? Will my coach or parent be disappointed in my performance? For some, the feeling becomes an overwhelming burden while for with others it seems like they manage these feelings effortlessly. The elite athletes that are on show exude this excitement and calmness. No one more so than the great sprinter Usain Bolt.
As an ex-athlete and now a coach, I have experienced these feelings within the sport and life situations, as well as watched athletes, experience this. We have misdiagnosed what we are actually feeling and this has then become an issue. Our solution is often pretty simple. We try to convince or trick ourselves that there is no pressure, that we should relax and slow down our breathing, that this “ is not a big deal”. However, this just doesn’t feel like it helps us and it often leads to suboptimal performance.
Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all. — John Wooden
I believe this is an opportunity for us to reframe what we are feeling. When we experience our heart rate pick up, the butterfly’s kick in, blood pumping more and the skin getting clammy. It is not a negative; it is a positive. These feelings drive our mental and physical performance. We shouldn’t be getting overly nervous, anxious, scared or start feeling the pressure. Instead, we should be seeing it as the body priming and getting ready for the situation that is about to take place, adrenaline kicking in… we should be getting excited, we are ready to go!
The anxiety and arousal (pressure) become too much for us and the performance is then hindered. This could be explained by the Yerkes-Dodson Law and his inverted U theory which suggests that too little or too much arousal will both lead to a decrease in our performance. So as you can see we need the “pressure” to perform, as without it we perceive the lack of challenge as boring, we are under stimulated.
Instead of convincing ourselves that the situation we are facing is nothing and therefore there is no pressure, let us reframe it as “without the pressure, the body wouldn’t be ready perform to its best”. Focus on all the training/experiences that have brought you to this point. You have put all the work in and its time to express yourself. This race is part of the process, the results are nice but we are driven from within, we are process driven. We do not fear failure but embrace it as a learning opportunity. Our goal is simple but important. It is to keep getting better. We judge ourselves according to ourselves. No longer do we feel overly nervous or anxious but instead begin to get excited about what is going to take place.
The challenge can now be accepted because we are excited by what we may achieve.We can then channel this new found belief and feeling into our sport/event/life situation and come out on top.
I question, learn, improve, like to write and want to be the best I can be. I currently coach strength and conditioning and sprints with Norfolk United Netball Club and City of Norwich Athletics Club. I also provide one to one sessions with clients from all sports, working with a range of different athletes and different abilities.