Psychological Perparation for High Level Competition

I’m sure that an athlete’s sense of how well prepared physically he/she is for his/her event has an effect on his/her performance in competition. If an athlete feels he/she is physically prepared for competition he/she will more than likely perform well. However, I know that poor weather conditions, poor facilities, negative crowd behavior, minor injury, superior competitors in one’s event can affect an athlete emotionally, causing fear, anger, anxiety, nervousness, over-arousal and the like, which can have a negative impact on his/her performance.

Does anyone know of any remedies or preventive measures for problems such as these?

As far as anxiety and concentration problems go, deep breathing can help. Have them take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then exhale slowly. A lot of athletes will do this naturally anyway without thinking about it but for the ones who don’t it can help.

Breathing exercises allow us to control our autonomic nervous system. When you inhale, it activates your sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight). When you exhale, you can influence your parasympathetic response (rest-digest). This is how Lamaze breathing was developed - to take the edge off hard contractions during labor.

I found long, slow, forced exhales work well to reduce anxiety and tension. If you get a chance to read Bud Winter’s book - Relax and Win - he talks a lot about breathing exercises for anxiety control and recovery. He had his sprinters perform these exercises. He had originally worked with WWII fighter pilots and taught them how to control their anxiety on missions.

Another book that discusses autonomic nervous system control in good detail is “On Combat” by David Grossman (coincidentally, the book was given to me by Benicio Del Toro!). Grossman works with Police, SWAT, armed forces, etc. teaching them to deal with violence and anxiety in combat situations. The common technique he teaches is “4 seconds to inhale, hold for 4 seconds, then exhale over 4 seconds.” This is done several times until control is restored.

This type of breathing work is confirmed by studies done with Heart Rate Variability. I’ve even done tests with my own athletes that clearly indicate recovery status is improved. Breathing is simply one of those activities that we take for granted (like running technique). Any one can breathe, but it takes work to do it well.

Thanks for the advice, Jstu 3565 and Number Two.


Pre race routine, in its extreme it can involve superstition (lucky socks etc :rolleyes: ) but following the same protocol on race day can really pay dividends. This includes meals, warm up etc that way you can go into auto pilot and the distractions lessened.

Thanks, John