How To Ease Pre-Match Anxiety

Published May 17, 2021

Your match is about to start in a few hours, and you feel a bit nauseous. Your hands are shaking from the “anxiety jitters,” and you can’t get your mind to focus. You feel unsure and fearful of messing up your match.

This happens before every match, and you cannot ever seem to shake it. You know it’s affecting your performance, but you don’t know what to do. 

Whenever you see your opponents, they always seem so calm and composed. What’s with that? Can you get there? The answer is yes! And it’s quite simple. Start implementing these practices into your life, and you’ll notice a difference in no time. 

Visualization

Many athletes use visualization to help with their pre-game anxiety and to improve their performance. Visualization is taking some time to imagine how you want to perform in the competition specifically. Start by taking a few deep breaths to center your mind. Close your eyes, and in great detail, visualize the exact movements you make to be successful in your match. The more specific your visualization is, the more powerfully you’ll be affected.

A recent article states that many athletes have reported being less nervous and anxious approaching events because they have already been there and seen themselves performing the way they want to through visualization. This article states that when you visualize a successful match, you are stimulating the same brain regions as you do when you physically perform that match. 

This is best done within a few hours of your game.

Meditation

Your mind is running a million miles an hour leading up to a match, and there are a ton of distractions — a crowd watching you, your opponents getting ready, maybe a new location you’re in.  All of these distractions can have harmed your performance. To ease these distractions, you will need to center yourself and focus on the present moment through meditation.

When you see “meditation,” you might think it’s some crazy kind of hippie-dippy technique. In reality, meditation is solely guided breathing with a specific focus on an object or thing.

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A recent study states that athletes who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques had significantly less anxiety and depression than others who did not—besides, athletes who adopt mindful meditation can reduce their stress and be more prepared to perform during competitions. 

Meditation is something you should get in a daily habit of doing while extending the sessions’ length leading up to a game. My favorite apps to use for meditation are Headspace and Calm. I enjoy using Headspace for my daily meditations. You can customize them to the length you want and the voice. I prefer to use the Calm app when I’m having trouble falling asleep. They have great night-time meditations that will put you out like a light! This can be especially useful when you’re having trouble falling asleep the night before a tournament. Both apps have free meditations along with free trials to the full versions.

Self-Confidence

There is no doubt that your self-confidence is going to affect your performance in a match. Most of the time, if you think you can’t do something, you’re most likely not going to be able to do it! This is an area that is extremely important to improve in to help your pre-match anxiety and give you confidence during your competitions.

Practice affirmations

An Affirmation is a short, powerful statement. The Daily Goalsetter states that affirmations allow you to be in control of your thoughts consciously. When you say or think them, they become the thoughts that shape your reality.

You can either look in a mirror and state your affirmations out loud to yourself, or you can write them in a journal. Either way, use the same claims daily — with a few added in here and there — to make these specific words your reality. This can be anything you might need a “boost” in  — 

“I am strong.”

“I am fast.”

“I am determined.”

“I am confident.”

This is another practice you should get in the habit of doing daily.

Less negative self-talk

This is one you need always to be reminding yourself of. It is straightforward to fall into these mind-spirals of negative thoughts about yourself. Start by getting in the habit of NEVER saying any negative self-talk out loud. Once you have progressed with this, continue by cutting off those gloomy thoughts that pop up by saying the opposite out loud. For example, you might have an idea come up of “I’m not good enough.”  Shut that thought down by saying “I am perfectly enough” out loud.

Focus on your success over your losses

Yes, you are going to have losses, but you’re also going to have wins! Train your mind to move past the failures and keep your center of attention on the successes. With practice and patience, you’ll slowly start to see your confidence rising with this.

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Practice self-love

This starts with nourishing your body — getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and taking care of your exerted muscles and joints. In addition to this, you’ll want to nourish your mind. This could be starting a gratitude journal, reading a self-help book, or taking a day to be alone with only your thoughts.

Part of self-love is also removing any toxicity in your life. It could be a relationship, activity, or bad habit. Whatever it is, if it isn’t positively affecting your life, take a break from it. 

Pre-game Routine 

A pre-game routine will help you to stay relaxed and decrease anxiety and doubts. Start your performance the day before your match by going to bed early to get a good night’s rest. The goal of a pre-game routine is to focus on what is right in front of you. Get your mind away from the game. Many athletes use this technique to get their “head in the game.”

This ritual can consist of anything that will get you focused and in a strict routine before your match. It could be playing a specific song, chewing a particular brand of gum while tying your shoes, maybe getting your equipment out in a particular order, or possibly all three! Ensure you go in the same order with your routine every time, so you build the habit and muscle memory quickly.

Have Fun!

As cliché as it sounds, it’s true! You most likely started this sport because it said at least semi-fun to you. So, don’t forget that in the journey of all the competitions.

Making sure you’re having fun in the game increases not only your physical and physiological health but also increases endorphins, which decrease stress and anxiety. A great way to bring some fun back into your game is to set small goals that are easily reachable. Doing this and applying more of the other tips to your life will have your pre-game stress and anxiety reduced in no time!

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