Social Anxiety Disorder Coping How to Handle Performance Anxiety as an Athlete By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 01, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by David Susman, PhD Medically reviewed by David Susman, PhD David Susman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with experience providing treatment to individuals with mental illness and substance use concerns. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print F64/Digital Vision/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Sports Psychology Athletic Performance Anxiety Triggers Thrive Under Pressure Manage Anxiety A Word From Verywell Performance anxiety symptoms are often present in athletes. While some people become "pumped up" during the competition, if you interpret the rush of adrenaline as anxiety and negative thoughts take over, this can interfere with your ability to perform. Before you learn how to manage the symptoms of anxiety during competitions, it is critical to understand the relationship between anxiety and athletic performance. Sports Psychology People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) fear social and performance situations. The most common fear is public speaking. However, other types of performances such as musical and athletic may also lead to anxiety. Sport psychology is a division of psychology aimed at better preparing the mind of an athlete for competition. Most sport psychologists work with athletes to help them overcome anxiety about performance during competitions. In its most extreme form, this type of anxiety would be diagnosed as SAD. Athletic Performance Anxiety before or during athletic competitions can interfere with your performance as an athlete. The coordinated movement required by athletic events becomes increasingly difficult when your body is in a tense state. While a certain level of physical arousal is helpful and prepares us for competition, when the physical symptoms of anxiety are too great, they may seriously interfere with your ability to compete. A certain amount of worry about how you perform can be helpful in competition. At the same time, negative thought patterns and expectations of failure can bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy. If there is a large difference between how you fare during practice and how you do during competitions, anxiety may be affecting your performance. Triggers Some types of athletes are more prone to feeling the effects of anxiety on performance. As an amateur athlete, you are more likely than seasoned professionals to experience anxiety that interferes with your ability to perform in competition. This makes sense due to your relative lack of experience both in competition and in managing feelings of being "pumped up." If you are an athlete who participates in individual sports, you are also more likely to experience anxiety than those who play team sports. It makes sense that being part of a team helps to manage some of the pressure that you feel when you compete alone. Finally, there is evidence that in team sports, if your team plays at the venue of the opposition (known as an "away" game), anxiety levels tend to be higher than when your team is playing at home. AHaving greater fan support and being more familiar with the location helps to reduce anxiety. How to Thrive Under Pressure How are elite athletes consistently able to rise to the challenge when faced with the tough competition? Research shows that self-confidence plays a role in how you respond to symptoms of anxiety during athletic performance. If you are confident in your ability, you are more likely to have a positive reaction to being "pumped up" and will thrive on the challenge of competition. Elite athletes are often so focused on their behavior that they interpret arousal as excitement rather than anxiety. In general, self-confidence tends to be highest when you believe in your ability and feel that you have properly prepared for a competition. Worry and confidence are at opposite ends of the spectrum; when confidence is strong, it tends to crowd worry out of the mind. Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares strategies for creating a motivated mindset, featuring TB12 CEO John Burns. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts How to Manage Symptoms Based on what's been discussed, there are a number of strategies you can employ to reduce performance anxiety symptoms, such as the following: Ensure that you have practiced enough so that you are confident during competition.For "away" games, ask friends or family to be there to root you on.Generate that "team spirit" even for individual sports by making friends with other competitors.Learn how to interpret arousal during the competition as positive or acceptable rather than negative (self-help books on acceptance and commitment therapy will help with this). Reduce negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety through cognitive restructuring (self-help books on cognitive-behavioral therapy will help with this). You can also use a number of strategies to help manage anxiety and induce relaxation related to athletic performance including visualization and progressive muscle relaxation. How to Cope With Anxiety About a Sports Competition A Word From Verywell If you find that your anxiety symptoms are severe and do not improve with the use of self-help strategies, plan a visit to your doctor or contact a therapist to discuss your concerns. You may be suffering from SAD and need professional treatment. The 7 Best Online Anxiety Support Groups 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Osoria, Fd, Crippa, JAS, Hallak, JEC, Loureiro, SR. Social anxiety disorder, fear of public speaking, and the use of assessment instruments. In: Selek, S, ed. Different View of Anxiety Disorders. 2011. doi:10.5772/18629 Judge LW, Urbina LJ, Hoover DL, et al. The Impact of Competitive Trait Anxiety on Collegiate Powerlifting Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(9):2399–2405. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001363 Hardy L, Hutchinson A. Effects of performance anxiety on effort and performance in rock climbing: a test of processing efficiency theory. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2007;20(2):147–161. doi:10.1080/10615800701217035 Alder DB, Ford PR, Causer J, Williams AM. The effect of anxiety on anticipation, allocation of attentional resources, and visual search behaviours. Hum Mov Sci. 2018;61:81–89. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2018.07.002 Pluhar E, McCracken C, Griffith KL, Christino MA, Sugimoto D, Meehan WP 3rd. Team Sport Athletes May Be Less Likely To Suffer Anxiety or Depression than Individual Sport Athletes. J Sports Sci Med. 2019;18(3):490–496. PMID: 31427871 Kang, H, Jang, S. Effects of competition anxiety on self-confidence in soccer players: Modulation effects of home and away game. J Men's Health. 2018;14(3). doi:10.22374/1875-68220.127.116.11 Koehn S. Effects of confidence and anxiety on flow state in competition. Eur J Sport Sci. 2013;13(5):543–50. doi:10.1080/17461391.2012.746731 Pelka M, Kölling S, Ferrauti A, Meyer T, Pfeiffer M, Kellmann M. Acute effects of psychological relaxation techniques between two physical tasks. J Sports Sci. 2017;35(3):216–223. doi:10.1080/02640414.2016.1161208 Additional Reading Hazell J, Cotterill ST, Hill DM. An exploration of pre-performance routines, self-efficacy, anxiety and performance in semi-professional soccer. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(6):603–10. Humara M. The relationship between anxiety and performance: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. Riewald ST. Strategies to manage performance pressure. Rodriguez C. Can sport psychology help athletic performance by increasing mental toughness through decreasing anxiety? By Arlin Cuncic Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Social Anxiety Disorder Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.