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What do I need to know about emotions and competition preparation?

Competition can bring out the best or the worst in athletes, and the psychological demands are especially high when individuals are all striving to achieve the same goals as their competitors.

What happens to our body before a competition?​

During the lead-up to an important competition, the body starts to prepare by:

  • releasing hormones into the bloodstream, setting in motion the physiological changes associated with increased arousal (sometimes referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response). ​

  • initiating changes in the attentional system, as athletes become more focussed and alert, with increasingly active minds.

This overall increase in arousal can be your best friend or your worst enemy: and the key to achieving an appropriate mind-set is to analyse the changes in a rational manner and channel your emotions in a positive direction. ​ What emotions are showing up for you before competitions?

We mentioned last week that competition can bring out the best or the worst in athletes, and the psychological demands are especially high when individuals are striving to achieve the same goals.

Take a moment to identify what emotions show up for you around competitions…

Are these emotions a threat or a challenge for you?

Emotional threat is…

  • the perception that winning is all-important and failure is unacceptable.

  • most often associated with too great an emphasis on winning, results, and rankings (I.e., outcomes).

  • Accompanied by pressure to win from parents, coaches, and athletes themselves.

With these beliefs, it's easy to see why competing in a sport would be emotionally threatening and then we struggle to cope and process the emotions that show up.

Emotional challenge is…

  • associated with you enjoying the process of your sport regardless of whether you achieve your goals.

  • focused on having fun and seeing the competition as exciting and enriching.

  • helpful to ensure that an experience is relished and sought out at every opportunity.

Thus, emotional challenge is highly motivating, to the point where you love being in pressure situations. Emotional challenge communicates to you that you have the ability to meet the demands of your sport, so you're confident and filled with positive thoughts. Emotional challenge generates many positive emotions such as excitement, joy, and satisfaction. It also stimulates your body to achieve prime intensity, where your body is relaxed, energized, and physically capable of performing its best. ​

Do you experience nerves before a competition or feel anxious before high pressure events?​ Anxiety is a state comprising of both physical and psychological symptoms due to feeling apprehensive in relation to a perceived threat. Anxiety may differ from situation to situation and each individual may experience things slightly differently.

Take a moment to think about the root cause of your nerves. Once you know these you can utilise the 2 strategies below to help you…

Is it a sense that you have lost control of the situation despite your preparation? - This is why routines and rituals can be so helpful. They give you a greater sense of power, even if you consciously know that whatever you’re doing doesn’t directly correlate with your success.​ Do you notice your it is a physical challenge for you, i.e., increased heart rate and tight muscles? - This can be overcome through a focus on breathing exercises.​

This content has been developed as part of our #itsmyjourney project with


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