Sports Performance Anxiety: Understanding, Managing and Overcoming Pre-Game Nerves

Sports performance anxiety is a common experience for many athletes. It is a type of anxiety that occurs before or during a game, match or race, and can have a significant impact on an athlete’s performance. In this blog, we will explore what sports performance anxiety is, how it affects athletes, and what strategies can be used to manage and overcome this condition.

What is Sports Performance Anxiety?

Sports performance anxiety is a type of anxiety that occurs before or during a game or competition. It is a normal reaction to the pressure and stress of competition, but when it becomes too intense, it can negatively affect an athlete’s performance.

Anxiety is caused by two things:

  1. The athlete overestimates the risk or challenge.
  2. The athlete underestimates their internal resources and strengths.

In addition, anxiety is always future oriented, such as:

  • What if I miss this shot?
  • What if I throw an interception?
  • What if I strike out?

How Does Sports Performance Anxiety Affect Athletes?

Sports performance anxiety can affect athletes in a number of ways, including:

Decreased Confidence: Anxiety can cause an athlete to doubt their abilities, leading to decreased confidence.

Impaired Focus: Anxiety can make it difficult for an athlete to concentrate and focus on their performance, leading to mistakes and poor performance.

Physical Symptoms: Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, “butterflies in your stomach,” and muscle tightness, which can negatively impact an athlete’s performance.

Poor Decision Making: Anxiety can impair an athlete’s decision-making ability, causing them to make poor choices during a game or competition.

Managing Sports Performance Anxiety

While it is normal to experience some level of anxiety before or during a game or competition, there are several strategies that athletes can use to manage and overcome sports performance anxiety:

Preparation: Being well-prepared for a game or competition can help reduce anxiety. Athletes can prepare by practicing their skills, studying their opponents, and visualizing success.

Relaxation Techniques: Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization (also known as self-hypnosis) are all relaxation and focusing techniques that can help reduce anxiety.

Positive Self-Talk: Encouraging and positive self-talk can help build confidence and reduce anxiety. Athletes can repeat positive affirmations such as, “I can do this!”

Focus on the Present Moment: Athletes can reduce anxiety by focusing on the present moment and not worrying about the outcome of the game or competition. They can focus on their breath, their body, or their surroundings to help calm their nerves.


Sports performance anxiety is a common experience for many athletes, but it can be managed and overcome with the right strategies and support. By being well-prepared, using relaxation and focusing techniques (such as sports hypnosis), practicing positive self-talk, and concentrating on the present moment, athletes can control anxiety and perform at their best. With these strategies in place, athletes can turn their pre-game nerves into a positive energy that propels them towards success.