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Nail your nerves

Professor Andy Lane explains how to avoid those crippling pre-comp jitters

The moment you’ve been training for has almost come. You’re days from walking out into the spotlight and making that moment yours. You’re in peak physical condition, and you’ve left little else to chance. But you’re gripped by anxiety. Fear of failure has become all-consuming, and everything is under threat. Just check out the Portaloos ahead of any fun run – that queue of twitchy competitors tells you everything. Well, sports psychologist Professor Andy Lane would have you believe that nerves can be a good thing – as long as you deal with them correctly. Once you understand they’re a natural response, nerves can be harnessed, then channelled to help you. Lane has three key techniques that he advises world class performers to use. And here they are…

Nerves: tunnel ()

 

1. WRITE STUFF DOWN
“Nerves don’t start when you get to a competition – they affect you in the run up. Despite endless ruminations and sleepless nights, it’s possible to combat this anxiety by sitting down well before your competition date, and casting your mind forward to the big day to visualise how success is going to look to you. Run the scenario through your mind, picturing every detail and capturing every thought. “Now write these experiences down. Don’t worry about analysing them or doing anything with them, you just have to write them down. And write about them in great detail. “This simple intervention works because it helps people sort out why they are nervous and stressed. It helps people to gain a different perspective and by writing them down, it helps organise emotions uniformly, so you can build a strategy for how to cope. “From there, write down a solution to each stressor. By writing down the issue and the proposed solution, you break down the cause of anxiety into manageable and bite-sized chunks, and by being active in your attempts to cope, this can create a sense of being confident to deal with the challenge and thus manage your anxiety.”

2. TALK THE TALK
“One way to tackle excessive negative thinking is to accept your nerves and think about them differently. “One strategy is to rationalise that negative inner voice and place a positive, action-based strategy beside it. We set these up in an ‘if-then’ format and the reason we do this is because evidence shows that when the ‘if’ (the problem) presents itself, the ‘then’ (solution) pops to mind. “For example, if I say to myself, ‘You are useless and going to fail,’ I then turn to my training diary and scrutinise the progress I have made, and find out what is there to improve on. Or if I say to myself, ‘You are useless and going to fail,’ I would then recall all the times I have played or competed well, and channel that feeling in order to help remind myself what success is. “The ‘then’ part should encourage effort and hard work. If we try hard enough, we’ll be satisfied, no matter the result. The key point is that anxiety and negative thoughts are warning signals about what might happen, and if we treat them as such, we can apply an increased level of intensity and persistence in our training to cover those weaknesses.”

3. TAKE A BREATHER
“When we get anxious, we get a sense things are spiralling out of our control. One way to get control back is to focus your mind on breathing. Breathing gets out of control when we are anxious, so by controlling it, we can tackle a major symptom of anxiety. “Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, notice the tension being relaxed from your face and neck. Follow this pattern for two or three breaths, then focus on your shoulders, so that as you exhale, the tension is released from them. Next, move the focus of breathing to the abs, then the upper legs, and finally the lower legs. “It takes around five minutes, but you release tension from your body and mind. Monitor how low your heart rate drops, too. It’s good to know your resting heart rate for lots of reasons, and through this exercise, you can see if the breathing technique reduces your heart rate to baseline.”

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