Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of embarrassment. Fear for your life. Fear. Fear is an emotion we experience when we are faced with a challenge or threat (real or imagined) that we interpret to have the potential to harm us. That harm can be physical or emotional (ego). In the realm of athletics there can be a certain amount of concern for injury. Far more frequently feelings of fear in sports is related to performance: our own perceptions of performance and interpretations of what others think of our performances.
Primer on Physical Reactions to Fear
Fear formula: Situation — Our Interpretation — Physiological Response — Physical Feelings of Fear — Reinforcement of Fear
The physical reactions are evolutionary and based in the animal need for survival. Chemical reactions in our bodies generated from fear result in: accelerated breathing, sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, changes in blood flow, heightened alertness and muscle tension.
Though fear can be seen as a motivator (some coaches actually ascribe to this) it is rarely the case. Fear and the physiological and psychological effects on an athlete adversely affects athletic performances more times than not. The more that is on the line in a given performance, the more likely the fear reaction may be experienced. In sports fear leads to choking, decrements in performance, increase in errors, increased fatigue, freezing and emotional breakdowns.
One of the critical steps is to get an athlete to “feel the fear and act anyway”.
Imagine a young child crossing a busy street on his own for the first time. All his parents’ warnings and precautions are running through his mind as he stands on the sidewalk. Looking both ways, his mind races thinking of all the things that could happen. He could get run over! He waits longer. No traffic. He still waits thinking a car may come from nowhere and hit him. Finally after agonizing over taking action he dashes as fast as he can across the street. He’s safe. He did it. His heart is pounding. He’s breathing hard. Then he realizes, he did it. With that success and reassurance that he can do this, his body returns to equilibrium. And in his mind, he CAN do this. The next time he attempts to cross a busy street, he’ll remember that he did it before – he can do it again (if coached to think this way). His fear reaction is lessened. And over time the fear progressively becomes less and less powerful.
As in the case of a child crossing a busy street for the first time a fearful athlete needs to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. They need to feel the fear and act anyway. Taking action is empowering. That empowering mindset needs to be reinforced and practiced in order to lessen those deleterious effects of the fear. Since the fear originates with our thoughts and interpretations to situations/events it must be combined with mental work too! Combined with cognitive work (evaluating fears, creating reframes, modifying self-talk, using affirmations, etc.) fears in performance can be tamed.
Need help with performance fears? Contact Coach Dean. He’s worked with many athletes to successfully overcome performance fears.
Willing Athlete + Sport-specific Skills + Expert Mindset Coach = Peak Performance