You know the feeling. Your hands are sweaty. Your stomach is in knots and you may or may not have to pee like 5 times. Your heart is racing, and you cannot wait for this feeling to go away.
Logically, you know you are not in danger. It’s just a job interview, first date, game, public speaking, or difficult conversation. But your brain isn’t really listening to that argument. Yes, you are safe, but you just don’t feel like it.
Ahhh the fight or flight response. That glorious, automatic reaction of our sympathetic nervous system that has kept our species alive for 200,000 years (give or take). The response that works beautifully when necessary, but inconveniently comes to visit during seemingly innocuous situations like first dates or presentations.
We’ve all been there. And for most of us, we want to stop feeling that way immediately.
Our bodies are literally screaming at us to rectify the situation, change SOMETHING.
But what if the thing we really need to change is our mind and the way we frame this physical reaction?
Believe it or not: This WORKS.
Let me elaborate. Often when I’m working with an athlete who is dealing with pre-game nerves, they talk about it like it’s a terrible thing. Now, I do not want my athletes throwing up before games, frozen with fear, or having panic attacks. Sometimes we do have to deal with the root of the fear FIRST (usually with simple things like breathing and visualization).
But I’m not talking about the extreme cases here (even though this trick will work even then to some degree). I’m talking about the athlete that has butterflies. The one who has sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate. The one that feels nervous energy coursing through their veins.
This athlete needs to reframe.
They feel these things in their body and they think, Uh oh, I’m not ready to compete. They think Michael Phelps or Serena Williams NEVER experience pre-competition nerves. They think it’s a sign that they are weak.
As a coach, here's how you can help them reframe their fear in just a few simple steps:
Change the language you're both using from nervous (about results) to excited (for the opportunity). What’s the difference? A lot and nothing at all. One looks to the future as something scary to be avoided, the other thinks of the future as something to move towards with enthusiasm and optimism.
But the body's reaction is PRETTY MUCH THE SAME THING. We feel the fight or flight response before we get on a roller coaster too but if you like roller coasters, it's a good thing... it's part of the thrill.
As I said before, many people feel butterflies and assume they're a bad thing. What if, when we felt butterflies, we used it as a signal to tell ourselves ‘This is my body getting ready to compete at my best.’ Often times when I work with an athlete and really get them talking about their best competitions in the past, the moments they talk about are not the times they had no nerves. It's when they had nerves and played hard anyway. In fact, they usually realize that nerves actually helped them compete at their best.
I’m TELLING you, reframing nervousness as being a POSITIVE response allows your athletes to believe they are powerful beyond belief. This has immeasurable benefits for their confidence, self-efficacy, and performance. And the best news of all is that this lesson can follow them far off the playing field into the rest of their lives.
Isn't that what this is all about?
For more on developing great competitors, you do not want to miss our FREE Masterclass: Game Face: Inside the Minds of Great Competitors where we break down more tools and techniques on the mindset of competing at your best! Join us HERE.