Why is it so Hard to Perform your Best During Competition?
One of the most common reasons why athletes, or the parents of youth athletes, reach out to sport psychology professionals and pursue sport psychology coaching is that they struggle to perform their best during competition. Oftentimes, these same athletes have no issue playing their best during practice, but on game day they struggle to find their “best stuff”. So why is it so hard for athletes to play their best during games, matches, meets, and other competitive situations? The answer can be broken down into three key reasons: increased pressure, having too many expectations, and thinking about the future and “what-if'' scenarios. To perform at your best it’s important to focus your efforts on those things that are within your control. Read the full blog post here.
1) Increased pressure - Game day feels different. The pressure is on, which may manifest itself in pre-game jitters and performance anxiety. It can be hard to control your nerves and emotions before the game starts when you consider what is at stake. Athletes feel more pressure during competition compared to practice because of the implications, negative or positive, of the performance.
2) Placing too many expectations on yourself and your performance - Competition leads to us putting expectations on ourselves, and oftentimes these expectations relate to winning or winning by a certain score. A great mindset for athletes to adopt is to “keep expectations low and standards high”. This means that you want to focus your efforts on keeping high standards for the factors within your control during a performance while acknowledging that certain things, including winning, are ultimately out of your control.
3) Thinking about the future and “what-if'' scenarios - One of the biggest factors that holds athletes back is letting their thoughts run wild and starting to think about “what-if” scenarios regarding the future. These might include:
What if I lose? (What will my parents/coach/teammates think of me if I lose?)
What if I don’t play my best today, will my coach bench me in future games?
What if I lose, how will my ranking be impacted?
What if today is the day that I re-injure myself?
Whenever you compete there will be questions and you may start to think about these what-if scenarios. Doubts may creep in as well. When encountering these sorts of questions and what-if scenarios it is important to know that there is good news and bad news. The fact of the matter is that many things during competition are outside of your control. These include the weather, playing conditions, behavior and playing level of the opponents, mistakes of the officials/referees, the decisions of your coach, reactions of spectators including parents and friends, and many other factors.
Despite these factors out of your control, the good news is that there are always things within your control that you can focus on - and they will make a significant impact on the outcome of your performance. Some of these factors include your strategy, your preparation, your physical intensity, your attitude, and how you decide to respond to the situations that you will inevitably encounter on game day. Considering all of the factors outside of your control on game day, I hope that you decide to focus your efforts on those things within your control to give yourself the best possible chance to perform at your highest level on game day.