Paralympic athlete Richard Whitehead

How to relax facing competition

Being able to relax, not panic and respond to the pressure of expectations and competitions is often the key behind successful performances. This blog follows on from our previous blog “Being relaxed or psyched up facing competition”, exploring the relationship between arousal, relaxation and performance. In this blog, we take a closer look at how to relax facing competition, detailing why being able to relax can have a positive effect on how you feel and ultimately how well you perform.

If you’ve not read our previous blog and wondering what all this ‘relaxation’ is about then take a look and have a quick read! If you’ve read it or you just know already that you need to relax more facing competition then read on!

Have you ever been in the situation when someone, maybe your coach, notices you’re tensed up and getting nervous, and they say… “just relax!”? You want to, but you’re just not sure how and for some people that can make us tense up even more.

There are many scenarios where you might benefit from being able to relax a little. It’s important when you, or someone else, notice that you’re getting nervous before a race or competition that you have the ‘tools’ to be able to calm things down in your head and keep a positive focus.

The first thing I’d like to say is, it’s normal to get nervous at competitions and we’ve all felt those emotions. What separates performances as successful is often how we respond during those times of tension and nervousness, as we start to feel perceived pressure. What pressure actually is and how we deal with it is important as our previous blog “Dealing with pressure in sport and how you view failure”, goes into more detail on this.

Practical ways of how to relax facing competitions

Below are some practical ‘tools’ and techniques you can use to keep yourself at a level of relaxation that’s specific to you and will therefore aid you in producing your peak performance.

  1. Training performances for confidence

We have a phrase at oneathlete:

‘Your performance at competition is a reflection of your training’.

If you’ve been ‘putting it in’ at training and delivering training performances that are inline with your goals, you can be confident and expectant that you can put in a performance at competition that reflects that. It’s a rational and logical train of thought that if you can do it in training then why can’t you produce the same in competition?

This gives us confidence that all we need to do is deliver what we’ve been doing day in, day out at training. All of a sudden competitions don’t seem quite as scary! However the opposite is also relevant. If you’ve not been training well, you can’t just hope that something magical will happen on game day or at competition time.

  1. Breathing

Relaxation breathing techniques are one of the best ‘practical’ things you can do during your competition preparations. The most important point is it’s about having a heightened awareness of your breathing and focusing your mind and attention on it. This helps us to stay present and block out any harmful distractions as you focus on the simplicity of your own breathing. Something we do automatically and take for granted, but don’t often focus our attention on. It also has a physical calming effect on your nervous system helping to slow and control your heart rate.

How to do it…

  • Take deep breaths in by expanding your stomach rather than lifting your chest. This encourages you to fill your lungs from the bottom up.
  • Take slow controlled breaths in through the nose, filling the lungs fully before pausing and exhaling out throw the mouth under control.
  • The out-breath should be slow enough for a count of 7 seconds.
  • As you breathe out, imagine stress and tension leaving your body, feel your muscles relax a little more each time you exhale.
  1. Visualisation

Seeing yourself do what you want to achieve helps you focus on the processes necessary to achieve success rather than focusing on the consequences of performance. The consequences of either success or failure can become huge distractions and detrimental to performance. Visualisation is great for not only harnessing skills and movements, but help build confidence when you see yourself performing well. It also helps us stay focused and mindful of the processes that build a successful performance. For more detail and instructions on successful visualisation then read another one of our blogs “Overcome sport anxiety. Use the power of your mind.”

  1. Preparation

Practically having yourself organised so you know what you’re doing, where and when you need to be there. As well as knowing you’ve got everything you need, in both a practical sense of equipment, meals, drinks etc, but also that your training preparation has physically put you in the best shape possible.

  1. Flexibility

We’re not talking about the mobility of you joints here. We mean having a flexible plan at competitions. Being prepared and planning what you’ll do is great, but you must remember that you can’t control everything.

So although you need a plan for warm up and competition preparation etc, you have to be flexible and adapt to changes that may occur that are outside of your control. This is an acceptance issue, make sure you accept the truth that you can’t control everything, so that when changes happen during you preparation, they don’t throw you off course and stress you out!

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