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How Coaches Can Help Athletes Overcome Performance Anxiety

How Coaches Can Help Athletes Overcome Performance Anxiety

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Max is a 13-year-old baseball player who gearing up for tryouts for the local Little League team. Although he played for this team last season, his Mom has noticed he is becoming more and more anxious closer to tryouts. Although the first day of tryouts went okay, he complained that he was sick to his stomach before the second day. He also had trouble remembering the drills from time to time, which is unlike him. He missed an easy pop fly early in the exhibition game and bobbled each grounder that came his way.

His coach then starts to wonder, “What’s going on?” Performance anxiety is prevalent in sports; in fact, we know that having an appropriate level of stress before a game or a tryout helps an athlete perform better. The important question is: When does performance anxiety in athletes begin to take too much of a toll on their mental well-being?

What Does Performance Anxiety in Athletes Look Like?

Anxiety shows itself differently in sports than they do in everyday life. This makes it a little more challenging to identify, but we can give you some behaviors and cues to keep an eye out for.

Anxiety in sports is broken down into three main categories: Somatic, Worry, and Concentration Disruption. This is based on the Sport Anxiety Scale-2 which has been shown in studies to be effective at identifying anxiety in athletes.

A good way to test to see where your young athlete falls is to ask them the following questions. If an athlete answers yes to any of these questions, follow up by asking, “Does it happen a little, a lot, or all the time?”

Somatic

*Somatic anxiety refers to the physical symptoms of anxiety experienced by the body.

  • Does your body feel tense?
  • Does your stomach feel knotted?
  • Do your muscles feel shaky?
  • Do you feel nauseous?
  • Do your muscles feel tight?


Note: The best way to ask these questions is in a private setting and initiate the conversation. Athletes should never feel embarrassed about feeling a little more anxious than their teammates. However, most athletes won’t want to discuss their feelings with others around them.

Worry

  • Do you worry that you won’t play well?
  • Do you worry that you will let others down?
  • Do you worry that your teammates will get upset with you?
  • Do you worry that you will play badly?
  • Do you worry that you will mess up during the game?

Concentration disruption

  • Is it hard to concentrate on the game?
  • Is it hard to focus on the task at hand?
  • Do you get distracted in the middle of performing a skill?
  • Do you have trouble thinking clearly during the game?
  • Do you have a hard time following instructions?
Player kicking soccer ball

Notice the physical signs

As we just broke down what performance anxiety in athletes looks like, be sure to make a mental note of the physical signs exhibited by your players. You might not get a chance to have a one-on-one discussion with each player asking them the above questions. Therefore, by taking note of the physical signs your players are showing, you can take a proactive approach in hopes that their performance anxiety doesn’t keep spiralling downhill.

Physical signs will include excessive sweating, rapid breathing, clumsiness (i.e., fumbling of the ball or puck), uncoordinated movements, and sluggish movements.

Have an open conversation

Whether an athlete comes to you wanting to chat about their performance anxiety or you take the initiative to start that conversation, always validate their feelings. Ask questions to learn more about the root of their anxiety, acknowledge their emotional experiences and express acceptance, maintain eye contact to show that you are actively listening, and offer a solution (if you don’t have a solution at that exact moment that is okay. Be sure to give it some more thought and come back to it at a later date).

Praise athletes

Praise can come both in verbal statements and physical gestures. Praise is beneficial to any athlete as it helps with their confidence, motivation, and enjoyment of a sport. Even if an athlete doesn’t score a record amount of goals during a game, make sure they are praised for their determination and work ethic.

Let’s explore some verbal statements and physical actions you can take to praise your athletes:

Verbal statements

  • “Great speed while dribbling on the court today.”
  • “You used your body to protect the puck very well during practice today.”
  • “I am proud of how you maintained eye contact with the softball all the way through your hit.”


Physical gestures

  • Pat on the back
  • Thumbs up
  • Clap
  • Smile

Encourage extra practice sessions

During a regular season’s practice, how can an athlete practice even more? This is made possible through repetition practice. If a player on your team comes to you and states they are not confident in setting the volleyball, encourage them to practice this specific skill repeatedly. Make this as fun as possible. For example, have another player stand on the other side of the net and see how many serves they can return.

Practicing a specific skill repeatedly, without burnout, helps an athlete better retain information (related to technique, speed, and intensity) for a longer period of time.

Conduct self-assessments

A self-assessment is just how it sounds, create a series of self-reflection questions for your athletes to answer confidentially. Ask your athletes to rank how they view themselves across specific skills, character, or sportsmanship metrics.

Self-assessments promote self-recognition and allow athletes to focus on their own capabilities, reducing the need for external validation or comparison. Players can hit the “pause” button and take the time to rate how they feel about themselves, helping to improve their self-esteem and confidence in the long run.

Self-assessments in SkillShark

Wrapping Up

Coaches, make sure to check in with your players to ensure they are in the right headspace while offering tips for how they can manage their stress levels. Remember, sports should be a fun experience for all!

To help players feel more confident, be sure to routinely communicate with them what skills they are performing well at and the ones that might need a little extra attention. With SkillShark, coaches can evaluate each player’s performance across a range of skills and then make this information available to their players through detailed and personalized reports.

Want to learn more about SkillShark?

The SkillShark product demo is the best way to learn. This includes white-glove setup of your evaluation, tour of SkillShark, and free 25 player trial.

FAQ — Helping Athletes Overcome Performance Anxiety

Some common signs include muscle tension, stomach tension, shaky muscles, upset stomach, or difficulty focusing. If you suspect anxiety, it’s essential to have an open conversation with the athlete and ask them questions to gauge the severity of their symptoms.

The main categories of anxiety in sports are somatic, worry, and concentration disruption. These categories help identify different ways in which anxiety can manifest in athletes. By recognizing these categories, you can better understand an athlete’s experience and provide appropriate support.

Supporting an athlete with anxiety involves open communication and understanding. If you notice signs of anxiety, ask the athlete questions to understand the extent of their experience. Create an environment where they feel safe and supported.

Parents can encourage a healthy balance between sports and life, teach their children coping strategies such as visualization exercises and deep breathing, as well as provide a safe, unbiased environment for their child to express themselves.

Absolutely. With the proper listening, communication, and problem-solving techniques, coaches can be a huge help in making athletes feel more confident in their performance

1) Take care of yourself through proper sleep, nutrition, and relaxation.
2) Don’t keep feelings to yourself. Always talk about what’s on your mind with a parent, coach, or teammate.
3) Focus on deep breathing when you feel yourself getting overworked to calm down your nervous system.

• Make your coaches aware of your performance anxiety.
• Ask your coaches what areas you can improve upon.
• Don’t overthink your “failures”, rather shift focus to what you currently excel at.
• Practice positive self-talk.
• Acknowledge when you are feeling anxious so you can immediately work on shifting your mindset to positive thoughts.

Self-assessments promote self-recognition and allow athletes to focus on their own progress, reducing the need for external validation. This boosts confidence and self-esteem.

elanne

Elanne is SkillShark’s marketing aficionado who is equal parts passionate about sports, marketing and sports marketing. She can usually be found with a golf ball or three in her purse, and her favorite way to spend downtime is out on the course with friends and family.