How to not be nervous for competition (Tips)

In this guide, we will discuss “How to not be nervous for competition”. We will talk more in-depth about some of the most useful tips if you attend sports competitions and would like to know how to manage the jitters. Feeling nervous is not necessarily a bad thing but when it starts affecting our performance or our lives then, it is important to act.

How to not be nervous for competition

If you want to know ‘How to not be nervous for a competition?’ here are some quick tips that may become very useful:

  • Try yo Keep your pre-competition routine the same.
  • Go over your routine mentally.
  • Think about your process and not the outcome.
  • If you lose focus, bring yourself back to the present moment.
  • Keep the focus on you and your performance.

These are some generic tips but they will tend to vary depending on the type of competition and sports you may be interested in. It is not the same as competing in cheerleading, gymnastics or swimming than in a soccer tournament, but we can find that the nerves or anxiety someone could be feeling is the same so try to be flexible and adapt the information depending on your circumstances.

How to not be nervous for competition (Tips)

However, be very aware of the severity of the symptoms because they might indicate that you could be having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Many sports psychologists have linked anxiety with athletic performance and they have also dedicated themselves to help athletes to overcome the nerves. 

Why do I feel nervous before a competition?

When we are performing in public during a competition, meaning we are displaying our skills, they can be compared to public speaking/speech or having an important exam. We feel the anxiety, the feeling of impending doom, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, among others. As indicated by Amanda McMillan from outsideonline.com:

“Sports scientists at Coventry and Staffordshire universities in the UK twice tested the coordination and anticipation abilities (i.e., how well they could catch a ball or strike an object) of 18 young, healthy adults—once in a no-pressure “practice” situation, and one in a high-stakes “competition.” Subsequently, those who feel pressured or under competitive scenarios tend to have low performance when compared to those that are not.

Tips on how to control the nerves 

We have mentioned some quick tips on how to manage your nerves before a competition but we will also talk more in-depth about other useful tips that are worth mentioning.

Don’t fight your anxiety, accept it

Accept your anxiety as it comes and acknowledges it instead of fighting it with all your efforts. This will only perpetuate the cycle because if you are focusing your efforts in not feeling anxious, it will make you think more and more. Try to close your eyes and say something like ‘I know I am feeling nervous and it is completely normal’.

Preparation/practising

You may have heard ‘Practice makes perfect’. This applies to many sports where repetition is key such as cheerleading or gymnastics. However, there are other sports that require you to prepare yourself physically. By practising and preparing you can feel more confident about your performance, knowing you have worked hard for it. Remember, there is no need dwelling about how other people are better than us because that is not something you can control but you can control how prepared you are for the competition. 

Changing your perspective

We know how easy it is to start to think about all the possible worst-case scenarios. We think they are very bad and this can be discouraging. However, if the worst-case scenario is that you lose then it doesn’t mean you are bad at playing or practising your sport. It is simply a matter of having a 50/50 chance whenever you are out there competing. You have prepared yourself for a while and have put in a lot of effort so just make sure to perform at the best of your abilities without worrying too much about the outcome.

Think about it this way, ‘If I lose, I get to compete some other time’. It is not the end of the world, there are many competitions and you have some time to keep practising, improving your skills, technique, etc. 

How to not be nervous for competition (Tips)

Focus on the process

As we have mentioned, stop focusing on the outcome because the fear of failure can affect your performance because it feeds your anxiety even if it is not your intention to. Focus on the process and even count in your head since it can help you focus and distracts you from anxious thoughts. By organizing the game in your head, it will let you clear your head.

Additionally, visualize your success at the competition. This can help you boost your performance and develop confidence. This is very simple, just find a quiet and comfortable place, sit and relax. Close your eyes and imagine the moves you will have to make to succeed in the competition. 

Set clear and real expectations

This is related to goal setting and ultimately, they help us to measure our success. However, remember to set clear and real expectations when competing. Choose to set goals that are achievable and not those who are impossible. If you have a very general goal, try dividing into smaller goals or tasks.

Subsequently, saying things like ‘I must be perfect during the competition’ will add unnecessary pressure on you because you are aiming for something impossible, no one is perfect and there are always human mistakes. Setting up a goal like this will only get you extremely frustrated and sad because you were not able to achieve it if something goes wrong. 

Breathing and relaxation techniques

We know that when we are anxious, we have a lot of physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and tense muscles. This indicates we are getting ready to fight the threat or flight the scene to avoid getting harmed. However, we know that competition is not really a life or death situation but our brain perceives it like such. To combat this effect, learning how to breathe and relax while we are feeling anxious is extremely useful. 

We recommend checking videos about diaphragmatic breathing, which is the most common breathing technique but you can also try the Wim Hof Method. Additionally, since your muscles can become quite tense, try implementing the progressive muscle relaxation technique to help you release the tension.  

Cognitive Restructuring

As indicated by Arlin Cuncic from Very Well Mind, “Cognitive restructuring refers to changing habitual ways of thinking. In the case of anxiety about athletic performance, cognitive restructuring helps you change any negative thoughts that may be leading to physical symptoms of anxiety-like bodily arousal—much in the way that elite athletes channel arousal into excitement and the ability to rise to the challenge.”

Subsequently, you may have all the skills and talent but if your way of thinking is not aligned then the results won’t be as positive as if you were combining skills with mindset.

Distract yourself before the competition

A couple of days before the competition you may start feeling the pressure and the jitters. However, try to keep yourself busy by doing something that relaxes you such as a hobby related activity. For instance, some people find knitting very relaxing or just listening to classical music. Do what makes you feel relaxed even if it is jogging for 30 mins or going dancing. This will keep you distracted and off the negative thoughts.

Focus on what you can control

There are things that you can’t control so stop dwelling on them. For instance, you can’t control the scoreboard or the score the judges give you during the competition. However, what you can do is perform with your heart and soul no matter what the outcome is because it is something you can’t control either. 

There may be better competitors but it is something you can’t control and see it as an opportunity to level up your competition. If we know we are against someone better, instead of being discouraged, try your best to improve your skills. 

Have fun!

We know it sounds obvious but when we are focusing our efforts on winning or being the best we forget to have fun and the reason why we are competing in the first place. Most people are just passionate about the sport they play, others love it because it makes them feel special or talented. Whatever the reason is, make sure to have fun in the process and don’t forget to smile!

Getting help

If you feel you are too overwhelmed before a competition that you can’t concentrate, focus or even sleep, we recommend seeking advice from your coach, sports psychologist or mental health professional. Symptoms can get worse over time if we simply let them because remember that anxiety won’t go away on its own even if we do everything possible to ignore it. 

Why is this blog about How to not be nervous for competition important?

As we have discussed on How to not be nervous for a competition, having the skills won’t necessarily mean you will succeed if you don’t combine it with the proper mindset. Moreover, don’t fight your anxiety, accept it as something normal and part of life. However, if it starts to affect you in several areas of your life we recommend visiting a mental health professional.

Finally, remember there are things you can’t control but you are responsible for performing at the best of your abilities, no matter if there are better competitors. It can become extremely useful that, while feeling all the symptoms related to anxiety, try to engage in deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques so you can feel more calm and relaxed. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

References 

Cuncic, A. (2020, Sept.) Coping With Pre-Competition Nervousness. Retrieved from verywellmind.com.

MacMillan, A. (2014, May.) How Can I Calm My Nerves Before a Competition? Retrieved from otsideonline.com.  

Latimore, E. (n.d.) 7 Ways to Be Less Nervous Before Competition & How that Transcends to Everyday Life. Retrieved from an.athletenetwork.com. 

How to not be nervous for competition (Tips)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.