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Completely Eliminate Competition Anxiety for Athletes

competition anxiety

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Competition anxiety is something that seriously impacts your ability to perform when your name is called. Training combat sports or other sports that are more individual tend to have athletes that experience this form of anxiety. In this article, we will help you find ways to eliminate the feeling completely so when it comes time to compete you are at your best!

What is Competitive Anxiety?

If you find yourself feeling that nervous feeling right before a competition match you may be experiencing a form of competition anxiety. When your body is preparing for competition you tend to feel this greater sense of nervousness or heightened awareness for the things around you. You may start to feel your heart start racing, you may get clammy hands, or you may have a “knot” in your stomach.

In our experience with competition anxiety, you have a little bit of all three symptoms of anxiety before stepping onto the competition mats. This is a feeling that you can overcome but you have to continue to put yourself in the situation to face it otherwise you are not able to really find ways to alleviate the issue.

competition anxiety, cognitive and somatic anxiety

The main causes of competition anxiety

The main causes of pre-competition anxiety can be a mix of excitement or negative thoughts going on in your head that cause you to worry or overthink in the moment. Anxiety, in general, is typically caused when we stress and worry over things that have not happened yet, are too focused on the outcome of a situation, or just overthink past/present mistakes.

Competitive anxiety has the same triggers in most cases. It can be a nerve-racking thing for people to step out into a crowd of people and have to perform at their peak. In the example of jiu-jitsu, we can physically feel the heightened senses when we just walk into the stadium. The noise from the crowd is deafening and causes our stress levels to spike.

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sports psychology, competition anxiety

Physical Symptoms of Competition Anxiety

Typically when we are experiencing competitive anxiety the symptoms are the following:

    • Nervousness

    • Pounding Heart

    • Increased Heart Rate

    • Muscle Tension

    • Racing Thoughts (that seem to be uncontrollable)

    • Irritability

    • Negative thoughts, negative emotions, or negative self-talk

    • Loss of appetite

    • Performance issues

We know when we are feeling this form of anxiety because it directly reflects in the way we perform. Many athletes suffer from competition anxiety so we are not alone or even “broken” for feeling this way. These temporary feelings of anxiety are frosting in the moment to deal with and finding a way to not only deal with it but overcome this is a huge priority for both you and me.

We have played sports our entire life but only until recently did we start to experience this type of anxiety symptoms. We believe that the nature of combat sports (being that it is one-on-one) play a huge role in the way we feel before stepping onto the mats.

If you are an individual athlete that plays a sport that is not reliant on a team, the likelihood that you have this same issue is higher than if you were in team sports. It is important to note that “pre-competition jitters” can be a manifestation of competitive state anxiety.

Techniques for Controlling Competitive Anxiety

This is why sports psychologists really exist, they help athletes find ways to deal with the stress that comes with performing at a high-level when there are stakes on the table. Getting out of your own head is a daunting task for people that experience this form of anxiety because it almost feels as though that it comes second nature.

We are personally a more emotional person (just understanding ourselves here) so we know that if we do not catch things early it is hard to reel things back and move in the direction we need (and want) them to go.

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competition anxiety, cognitive symptoms, trait anxiety, anxiety levels

Four Techniques That Helped Me Control Competition Anxiety

Positive self-talk

Aw, the good ol’ positive self-talk technique. We have a love/hate relationship with this one here but ultimately it does work. The reason we were always so hesitant on accepting that this stuff works is because we always had a foul taste in our mouth about “positive affirmations”. The idea that just speaking things into existence and they magically make us feel better was too woo-woo for us to accept for years but there is some real science behind how positive self-talk can help ith anxiety.

While positive self-talk may not completely eliminate the feeling that you may be experiencing it is important to tell yourself things that boost your morale going into your matches versus doing the opposite.

As athletes, we have to do the best we can to take care of our mental and physical health. Clearly the physical part is already there for us but sometimes the biggest hurdle we have to jump over is the own person in the mirror.


Probably the most frustrating thing about competition anxiety is the feeling of knowing our athletic performance (that we may have just put on) was not our best because of the thoughts running through our heads. We have to see ourselves coming out with a positive result before we step onto the mats (or field if you train in a field sport). Visualization and positive talk go hand and hand and should be used in unison to help alleviate some of the feelings of anxiety that you may be experiencing.

Here are some practical tips for getting better at visualizing positive outcomes from your competitions:

Tips to Help With Visualization

    • Deep Breathing techniques to slow down the heart rate and help with stress management

    • Create detailed mental images. use your senses to imagine details, sounds, smells, and physical sensations

    • Envoke the emotions and feeling associated with the desired outcome (performing well or winning)

    • You need to practice visualization. you cannot just show up to the matches and expect to be great at it right before you step on

    • Seek feedback from coaches, sports psychologists, or mentors.

Precompetition Routine

What we have found most helpful to try to control this competitive state of anxiety as much as possible is coming up with a routine that puts the feeling of being anxious at bay as much as possible. As we have stated earlier in this article, as soon as we walk into the competition stadiums that we are competing in, the noise from the crowd is deafening and immediately causes us to feel anxious.

To keep us sane, we go toward leaning onto music to help drown out the noise and really try to concentrate on getting (and staying warm). Classical music has been a savior for us when it comes to calming us down so right when walking into the stadium (to cool those nerves) we will through on a playlist to try and reduce anxiety levels. We want to catch the bug before it even creeps in so doing this as soon as we walk in is priority number one.

When managed properly, competitive state anxiety can be controlled. Individual athletes need to find what works for them when it comes to crafting a routine so they can feel calm in high-stakes competition.

Typically, after singing into the front desk and putting on our classical music, we find somewhere to rest and relax until about an hour (or an hour and a half) before we have to actually step onto the mats. At about that time, we start to get loose, run through active warmups, and put on some rap (or more hype) music.

Deep Breathing For Relaxation

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

To help eliminate the competition anxiety that you may be experiencing before matches or games you need to learn some techniques that can help slow the heart rate down and ultimately put you in a state of relaxation. Competitive state anxiety tenses up our muscles and causes our heart to feel like it is racing, a great (and extremely effective) way to eliminate these feelings is simply through our breath.

I don’t know if you are into meditation or not but a lot of breathing work is just that. Shallow breathing will have a negative effect on your mental competitive state. Box breathing exercises, diaphragmatic(belly breathing) breathing, and 4-7-8 breathing are all great relaxation techniques to keep you calm before the lights are on you.

Feeling anxious before stepping onto the mats or field is something that comes with the competition experience. We are putting ourselves out there to either gain glory or learn lessons and we should be proud of the courage that it takes to do something like this. If we can continue to find ways to calm down our nerves and eliminate the competition anxiety we experience our self-esteem and self-confidence will increase along the way.

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