How to Cool Nerves Before a Game
Sports performance often has to do as much with how a person handles pressure in demanding situations as with the physical abilities displayed by the competitors. For many athletes, from young people to seasoned professionals, nerves can wreak havoc on an athlete’s ability to perform at his best. But the best performers have figured out how to calm their nerves just enough so that they do not affect their physical performance, which allows them to perform at their peak. Much of this training comes in preparation for the game or match where the nervousness likely will come. By preparing your mind for what to expect before the game, you can ease your nervousness and perform at your best when the time comes.
Calming Your Nerves
Train your mind to handle difficult situations while you practice. This can be accomplished by introducing competition into your practice routines in which the winners and losers have real motivation for winning and consequences for losing. For team sports, having players scrimmage at the end of practice with the losers having to run extra sprints can help breed competition and provide practice for performing under pressure.
Spend time each night envisioning the best possible outcome of the upcoming event. Imagine your thoughts and feelings during the big moments and envision yourself performing well under stress.
Develop a routine before your competition that becomes familiar. Sticking to something that is familiar can help you calm your nerves and help you get into the right mind-set before competition. Most athletes believe that a bit of nervousness is needed to provide the adrenaline to perform at your best and a routine will help you harness that energy. PGA Tour players are an excellent example. They all have a consistent routine as they prepare for a tournament and a pre-shot routine for every shot, from their drives to putts.
Breathe deeply during your pregame routine. Remembering simple physiological cues can help lower your heart rate and help you calm down.
Focus on the now instead of the past or future. A major part of reducing your stress level in sports is to focus on what you can control instead of dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. This will help you get comfortable by allowing your mind to let go of your worries and focus just on your physical abilities, which have been worked on in practice.
An important aspect of training your mind to overcome nerves involves having patience if it does not work the first time as well as you would have liked. Most professionals suffer from nerves throughout their career and continue to get better at adapting to the physiological changes in their body through experience. In addition, be sure to find a personal routine that works best for you in overcoming your nerves.
Because every person is different, some athletes will respond much differently to pressure situations than others and find different ways of handling the stress of competition. Don’t be afraid to try new things in order to get your nerves under control before a game.
Kenneth D. Hartline is a Doctor of Psychology student at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, California. He is also the founder and CEO of Hartline Enterprises LLC, a mental performance consulting agency. In 2009 he graduated from the University of Oregon with dual bachelor's degrees in journalism and psychology and has been writing professionally since 2007.