Girl in active wear and a face mask and boxing gloves, sitting down, puffed after boxing

How to handle pre-competition nerves

It’s grand-final day and your team is warming up before your coach/captain huddles everyone together for the pre-game chat. You’ve been training for this moment all season and you know you are physically prepared for this.

But there are butterflies in your stomach… You can feel your heart beating, and your palms are pooling with sweat – cue the Eminem song.

Like many, I’ve been glued to the Tokyo Olympics. It’s been so exciting to watch some of the world’s best athletes doing what they do best.

The other day I tuned into watching the women’s weightlifting. Just before the competition began, they showed each athlete sitting in their warm-up area. I couldn’t ignore the facial expressions on the ladies’ faces as some sat there staring off into the distance, others biting their bottom lip, and one was even curled up with a towel around her head #relatable. It was then that I realised that they were all showing signs of nerves. These athletes, who have probably performed in hundreds of competitions to get them to the Olympics, were no strangers to the pressure of performance.

I changed the channel to the 100m swimming heats and again, saw a similar scenario as each swimmer stood behind the starting block, their faces flashing between intense focus and the quiver of doubt.

According to Exercise Physiologist Elizabeth Quinn, pre-performance nerves are often a result of an athlete’s inner self-talk. You can only guess the sorts of thoughts that go through a professional athlete’s mind before a competition.

“Everyone is expecting me to win”

“There’s no way I’ll beat so-and-so”

“What have I gotten myself into?!”

Nerves are a common thing to feel before any big competition or performance. Whether it be on the sporting field, before a job interview, or even before an exam.

So, it got me wondering… if the world’s best athletes feel nervous before a competition… how does someone like myself combat pre-competition anxiety?

Get into a routine

Having a pre-competition routine before a competition might involve a series of stretches, hanging out with teammates or your coach, or putting in your air pods and vibe out with your favourite playlist. The key with this is to make it a routine and soon enough every time you do the routine, your mind will understand that it’s time to focus and prepare for the comp.

Positive Affirmations

Cut out any doubts and negative self-talk. Another way to help focus your mind is to say positive affirmations to yourself. Things like, “I got this”, “I can do this”, “I have everything within me that I need to succeed” can do wonders to your confidence right before competing.

Breathing techniques

Often when we feel nervous or anxious, our breathing will quicken and can make us feel even sicker. It’s important to bring yourself into the present moment when feeling anxious. The best way to do this is through grounding techniques or breathing techniques. Try inhaling through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds – repeat.

Visualisation

Visualisation is a powerful tool for achieving any goal you’ve set yourself. During the night before the competition, or when you’re getting ready, and even in the car on the way to the game, visualise yourself in the competition. Imagine the field, the crowds, the uniform of your opponents – everything. Now visualise yourself kicking that winning goal, playing your best game, the smile on your coach’s face, and even your team celebrating the win. Go through the complete routine you’re about to endure and that way your mind knows exactly how you’re hoping to perform.

Try to relax

“Easier said than done,” but for you to be on you’re a-game you’ll want to get a good night’s sleep, eat well the night before, and limit any substance use. Do what works for you!

And finally, pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done leading up to this moment. It’s now time to show-off everything you’ve been working for and remind yourself why you are competing. You got this!


Whether you’re new to University, a seasoned student, an online or an on-campus student, don’t take for granted the additional skills that you can learn through the student sport clubs at UNE!

Head to the SportUNE website for more.