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How Your Mental Health Can Affect Your Athletic Performance

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Negative internal or external psychological factors can lead to mental blocks, causing breaks in focus and preparation, poor performance and injuries. They can produce physical troubles such as muscles tightening, shaking and increased sweating. To combat these powerful affects you can focus efforts on tactics such as goal setting, routines, visualisation and confidence.

Not all stress is bad for your performance.

Stress can affect your performance in two different ways. Stress can help you when it makes you more alert, more motivated to practice, and gain a competitive edge. In the right amount, stress helps you prepare, focus, and perform at your optimal level. However, too much stress can cause performance anxiety, which hurts your health and does not allow you to play relaxed, confident, and focused.

“You’re always going to be nervous teeing it up in a Major Championship. It’s very natural and it’s a good thing. It means that you want it.”

~Rory McIlroy, first round leader at the 2011 Masters (Golf)

Every competitive athlete experiences some stress; good and bad. Your stress may be positive and helpful or cause anxiety and apprehension. Pregame jitters can cause some athletes to not sleep well the night before competition. Some athletes can’t eat the morning before a big game. Your pre-competition jitters may make you feel like you have to throw up.

You want to feel excitement or thrill in anticipation for competition.

Heightened activation will help you perform your best — up to a point where you may be too jacked up to play well. Too little or too much stress can cause your performance to decline. Your ability to cope with pregame nerves is crucial to consistent peak performance.

Here are 5 key techniques to help stop mental health having a negative effect on athletic performance:

1. Breathing exercises The diaphragm is a muscle between the chest and the stomach cavity. The breathing done by contracting this muscle is known as diaphragmatic breathing. It requires simple practice to learn and then it should be repeated several times daily.

2. Relaxation techniques When you feel the symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate or difficult breathing, a relaxation technique can help in controlling the anxiety. An example of this would be to lie down in a darkened room and think about relaxing the body from the outside in.

3. Visualisation Visualisation is a technique, which can be used to control anxiety.

a. Visualising yourself This is one of the exercises of visualisation in which you visualise yourself. Visualise every physical aspect of your body with your eyes closed. While visualising your body, tell yourself that each of your body parts is fine and in good working condition.

b. Visualising your game Visualise the actual sport that you play. Visualize the events starting from the preparations before going onto the field and the first move, and finally the victory.

c. Visualising your opponents Imagine how your opponent will play. While visualising your opponent’s moves, tell yourself that your moves are better, and visualise you would combat them.

4. Muscle relaxation Anxiety results in stiffness of the muscles. Muscle relaxing practices are done to avoid this happening during the actual game. In this technique, you tense a particular muscle of the leg, abdomen, hands or face for 10 seconds with the eyes closed. After 10 seconds of tension, 20 seconds of relaxation should be practiced before moving to the next muscle.

5. Focusing on what can be controlled Remind yourself that you are better trained, you have developed better techniques, but don’t try to control things that are not in your control such as the crowd or the opponent.


Get in touch through social media and let us know what helps you overcome some of these issues! Also, check out our instagram and facebook page for more posts like this. If things ever get too much and you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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