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Mastering the art of staying calm in competitions

Are you feeling nervous?

Although we use the word nerves a lot in a sport context, we know that this emotional response is a result of performance anxiety. There nerves (or anxious feelings), can cause a decrease in our performance as we are perceiving a situation as stressful.

Are you feeling pressure to perform?

The stress we have just mentioned that triggers us to feel nervous can be caused by high expectations and/or pressure.

  • Often in sport the term 'pressure' is used to describe a close/tight competitive situation or one that is of importance to you.

  • Sometimes pressure comes from expectations you have taken on from other people in your life such as parents, coaches and team mates.

  • You may think that others have given you these expectations, but they are ones you have conjured up based on what others have said to you.

How can nerves and pressure help you?

Start by...choosing to view pressure as a challenge not a threat.

Something must be at stake:

  • may be you are competing at a higher level,

  • your family is watching

  • you are performing a new skill in a competition for the first time

These are what we call the demands of the situation, and they are what creates pressure.

To see this pressure as a good thing - a challenge - you need to know that you have the resources to match these demands.

Three main resources can help you

  • Self-efficacy or Confidence

  • Perceived control

  • Approach motivation.


Self-efficacy or self-belief, is the belief you have in your ability to successfully complete a task or meet the demands ahead of you. It is the belief of what we can do with our skills in a situation.

Self-efficacy is influenced by several factors, including:

  • our past experiences (earlier tasks we have succeeded at),

  • having role models (perhaps a sibling or a training partner) who have been successful in a task,

  • positive feedback from others or yourself,

  • how we interpret our physical symptoms of nervousness

Perceived control

Is the feeling of having control over a situation. It is different from wanting to be in control. Perceived control has to do with being aware of what is in your control and what is not, and accepting this.

For example, when you are warming up, you are aware that you cannot change the length of time but you feel you are in control of how you use the time you do have.

Or imagine that a judge gives you a score that you disagree with - you probably cannot change the decision, but you can focus on your own effort and work hard on the next piece.

Approach motivation

Has to do with focusing your efforts on doing your best. When you have approach motivation, you focus on what you are going to do to perform well.

Sometimes being focused on what you can avoid might feel easy, but it can actually take a lot of energy. Think about a gymnast who is on the beam and focusing on not falling on their big skill near the end of their routine, they a so focused on this that they end up falling off earlier in their routine on a skill they are normally confident with.

Approach motivation helps to turn pressure into a challenge.

This content has been developed as part of our #itsmyjourney project with Valleys Gymnastics Academy.


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