Practical Tips for Performance Anxiety

I can clearly picture my worst experience with performance anxiety nearly 15 years after it took place.  My college lacrosse team was playing an away game against Vanderbilt, and the first few goals sailed by me.  From that point forward, I felt frozen.  I was worried about missing the next one, feeling intense pressure to finally make a save, and I was plagued with negative thoughts that I just couldn’t do it. I was overthinking and I was stuck. I felt like I couldn’t snap myself out of it, I felt increasingly tense, and I was so in my head, it was like I just watched the ball go by me time and time again.  Performance anxiety can feel intensely overwhelming when you don’t know what to do to alleviate it. There are so many techniques for managing anxiety that could have helped me in that Vanderbilt game and the games that followed, and I wish I had known then what I know now. It is normal to experience anxiety when we play sports and some level of anxiety enhances our performance.  However, sometimes our anxiety increases to the point where it becomes debilitating and limits our ability to perform up to our potential.  When we experience performance anxiety, the following strategies can be helpful:


-       Use physiological relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation

-       Shift your perspective toward anxiety- view anxiety as helpful instead of harmful

-       Create balanced thoughts that acknowledge your strengths and any small positives, instead of only focusing on the negatives

-       Imagine yourself coping with high anxiety situations

-       Approach feared performance situations, instead of avoiding them

-       Create consistent performance routines that incorporate anxiety management techniques

-       Anxiety takes you out of the present, so practice mindfulness meditation, to increase your ability to return to the present moment


If you experience performance anxiety, a sport psychologist can teach you techniques for managing anxiety and create a plan to help you work toward performing up to your potential.