All human beings deal with anxiety in life, but those who “perform” may be the most challenged by the negative effects of anxiety. Athletes, for example, regularly perform in the sense that they have to develop a high degree of mental toughness in order to play well in pressure-filled games the same as they do in practices (where there is usually much less pressure). It only makes sense, therefore, that athletes learn specific skills to minimize anxiety so that their minds and bodies work in synchrony, and that perfect muscle-memory skills will occur naturally on the field.
How do athletes relax under pressure?
It’s funny, but how many times have you witnessed a coach, parent, or even a teammate yell out to a player “RELAX OUT THERE!”? While the prompt makes sense, simply yelling at somebody to “relax” doesn’t provide any instruction about how to relax. In fact, for some athletes being told to relax while in the midst of a pressure situation actually become more nervous realizing that they have no idea what skill(s) to use to actually begin to relax.
Being relaxed is crucial as it applies to athletic success, and there are many ideas and techniques that can help, including self-talk, cue word utilization, imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Interestingly, perhaps the easiest and most successful way to control nervous energy is something we do all day, every day: breath.
Deep breathing for optimal athletic performance
Deep breathing is different than our normal way of breathing as we go about our day in that it requires us to inhale all the way into our stomach (as opposed to our lungs), hold the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale. This type of breathing allows for the maximum of oxygen to enter our bodies, thereby creating a natural, physiological way of minimizing nervous energy. Most athletes can easily take one deep breath before each play, and the results will be both immediate and very noticeable.
Deep breathing provides athletes three very important benefits:
- Improves physiology. It is virtually impossible to remain nervous while engaging in slow, rhythmic breathing (try it and see)
- Offers a sense of control. It is well established in psychology research that control and stress are inversely related, meaning the more control you take in life the less negative stress you will experience. When athletes have a game plan that includes deep breathing, they are being proactive and in control of their own destiny.
- Puts focus on you. When you focus on taking a deep breath or two, your focus shifts away from stimuli that causes nerves (i.e. the competition), and toward variables that matter (i.e. relaxing your body, fine-tuning your focus, etc).
Yes, deep breathing really is that important, even if it sounds that simple and easy to do. on’t be fooled by the simplicity of deep breathing and immediately write it off as trivial advice, for this one, simple tip might be the biggest game-changer an athlete every experiences — especially if nerves are getting in the way of optimal athletic performances.
Check out the latest in mental toughness enhancement here!