Western Nationals starts today in Salem. We got a 3:00pm draw and my parents are driving down from Seattle to see the game. It’s a massive three-day, double elimination tournament. Winner goes all expenses paid to World’s in Oklahoma.
I used to throw up before every softball tournament. It was just my thing. I was terrible at managing the anxiety that accompanied anticipating a big performance, so I let it all build up inside of me and then tossed my cookies. After that, I was fine.
I do not recommend this strategy.
Just in the past year have I been able to really make some conscious progress with my psychology around performance and sports. I’ve learned to talk myself off the ledge and leverage that nervous energy into productive focus and intensity.
Part of being able to do this has been learning to have confidence in myself and pushing away every tiny inkling of self-doubt that creeps in. Every internal voice that questions me. Every derogatory thing ever said about my game. Pushed aside, dismissed.
Instead of focusing on all the possible ways I might fail or suck, now I practice visualizing perfect execution of a basehit, a perfect throw to the cut, tracking a ball back to the fence with steady feet and a sharp eye. I practice positive self-talk and remind myself that this is what I do. This is what I’m good at. This is where I belong.
I woke up this morning with that old familiar sick-feeling in my stomach and I realized that I’ve been focusing too much on the fact that this is Western Nationals. I pulled myself back in, regrouped, and reminded myself that this is just another day on another field against another team.
I play my heart out whether we’re at a laid-back weekend fundraiser tournament or taking batting practice together on a Sunday afternoon so how should this be any different? It’s not.
This is a brief list of some of the techniques I use for managing sports-related anxiety or stress:
- Reminding myself that my perceptions and thoughts have a direct physical effect on my body
- Using relaxation techniques (deep breathing; visualisation)
- Sticking to a routine (familiarity is calming and reassuring)
- Positive thinking – encouraging and motivating myself
- Simulation and training (practice, duh – the more well-prepared I feel I am, the calmer I tend to be)
There’s about 2 hours before I have to be ready to roll out the door. I think I’ll turn on some Eminem and re-check the contents of my equipment bag about 100 more times (sticking to routine!).