Mind Over Matter

I’m still so elated and riding high after medaling at the National Solo Dance Finals from a couple of weeks ago. Reflecting on my experience and lessons learned, I wanted to bring attention to a major challenge that I faced at nationals and also faced by many athletes- sports performance anxiety. I know all of my students have experienced it in some degree, whether it’s taking a skating test or performing your program or even just doing a run through in front of everyone at the rink. I wanted to address this because I’m not sure how many of you realize the importance of mental preparation for a competition and how it can greatly impact one’s performance. I want to share my experiences and help you all to learn how to better handle and reduce competitive stress.

Competing successfully is most challenging because it not only requires endless hours of hard work and practice but also mental aptitude and toughness. Learning to manage performance anxiety is very complicated even for experienced and elite athletes. Staying focused and calm is the most critical factor in skating a clean program. I’ve been competing for over ten years now and I still get so nervous and panicky at every test and competition.

According to Dr. Alan Goldberg, an internationally recognized expert in the field of performance enhancement and a consultant for Competitive Advantage, he explains that ‘getting good and going as far as possible as a skater in practice is 95% physical and 5% mental. However, once you skate onto the ice..., the percentages flip flop. Skating to your potential is now 95% mental and 5% physical!’. I can attest to this because if you’ve worked hard at practice and put in the countless hours to master your skills then the muscle memory will help you perform. But in order to skate your best, it’s important to not worry and be intimated by others and have self-confidence.

At nationals, I had to keep reminding myself that my extensive training had well prepared me for this final day. I had to stop obsessing about the outcome and the possible of failure and instead, remain positive and visualize success. I constantly told myself this even though it was so difficult to stay calm especially knowing I was competing against such top talents. To de-stress, I try to employ the following below strategies and techniques and you have to experiment and figure out which strategy works best for you.

1) Be prepared. I avoid further stressful situations by making sure I arrive at my event an hour early before I compete. This way, I don’t have to rush and have plenty of time to prepare and run through my program.
2) Avoid distractions. My mom knows whenever I’m stress because I become irritable and moody and oftentimes I withdraw from conversation. She knows me well to leave me alone so I can concentrate on what I need to do and stay focus. The minutes leading up to competition before I go into the rink and warm-up, I like sitting alone and having my quiet time.
3) Listen to music. I first play my program music and visualize myself skating to my program and then I play it again when I do a run through off-ice during warm-up with my coach. Afterwards, I go back to the locker room and play pop or hip hop music to help quiet my mind and make me feel happy.
4) Talk to my coaches. During the time I’m standing behind the boards and getting ready to step on the ice to skate, my coaches try to lighten up things and tell each other jokes to help reduce my anxiety. Some of their jokes and comments are actually really funny that I get a good belly laugh.
5) I tell myself I can do this. I am prepared. I am good. I can win. These are the words I repeat to myself several times to help boost my confidence.

Being able to manage performance anxiety is also a predictor of how long you will be able to compete and enjoy the sport. You want to learn how to manage the stress before it potentially gets worse as you get older. I hope by discussing this issue will help you better manage competitive stress, develop mental toughness, and improve your performance. Hey, I hope my information can even help with any tasks that gives you anxiety, including major school exams, public speaking, performing in a show or recital,…

Happy Competing!