How to deal with competition stress

Martijn Veltkamp explores the deeper thought processes around improving your sports performance
You’ve been training for months, followed ambitious schedules, adapted your diet, and now you’re ready. Today the event you’ve been working for finally starts. Quite exciting, right? Luckily, the excitement you feel before the start is good and helps to improve performance. Too much stress however is not good at all. It results in what psychologists call paradoxical performance: You want everything to go so well, that everything goes wrong. Here some tips & tricks to reduce your tension in situations where you’re too stressed.

1. Mind your breath: Even when stress is caused by your mind, it is still heavily influenced by your body. When you’re too tense, focus on your breathing: consciously breath in and out slowly. Alternatively, you can contract and relax your muscles in a controlled manner. This will help to release tension in your body, and will do the same in your mind.

2. Please don’t stop the music: Music doesn’t only affect your mood, but your stress levels as well. Many athletes listen arousing music before a race to get the right focus and tension. But the reverse also works; calming music will calm your mind.

3. What are you afraid of? If you experience pre-competition stress, then probably that is due to some negative thoughts of which you are not consciously aware. Chances are you are unconsciously afraid of something. Maybe to fail, to do it all wrong. What helps is to analyze your thoughts in situations like these, write them down. And then realize: why is it that I fear this? This insight is the starting point to turn your thoughts in a more positive direction.

4. Do a stresstest: You won’t be the first athlete performing suboptimally due to stress, without even realizing it. It helps to a pre-start stresstest. Focus on your body and mind. Are you too tense, or not as aroused as you should be? Based on the outcome, you can use the other tips to adjust your arousal levels.