How to Manage Stress before a Sporting Competition

Knowing how to control stress and anxiety before a match, race, or competition can be key for performing to the best of your abilities. At the end of the day, training the mind is just as important as training your body.
How to Manage Stress before a Sporting Competition

Last update: 19 June, 2020

One of the most common challenges for any athlete is knowing how to manage stress before a sporting competition. Good mental concentration and proper control of your emotions will be really important for achieving results. However, sometimes, our nerves get the better of us and all our hard work can be for nothing.

So, why do anguish, nervousness, and tension of opposing emotions build up before a sporting event? Sometimes it’s insecurity.

You might start to doubt your own abilities, and, almost without realizing it, you’ve started a negative internal dialogue, putting yourself down, and anticipating failure.

Other times, it’s simply the pressure. This happens a lot in professional sports, particularly when there’s a lot riding on the results, such as sponsorship, scholarships, or approval from the team or coaches.

Life in sport is complex and this means it requires preparation and discipline, not just physical training.

Knowing how to deal with adverse thoughts and emotions both before and during a competition is something that everyone who practices a sport should work on. Mental training is just as important as physical training. So, let’s see next how to reduce your nerves before any test.

Two runners about to start a race.

How to manage stress before a sporting competition

The ability to manage stress before a competition is one of the most important areas of sports psychology. Below, we’ve listed a few strategies, but it’s important to understand that you need to choose one that works for you, that best suits your specific needs and personality.

Decluttering the garden of your thoughts

One of the most popular psychological techniques to facilitate change and encourage more adjusted behaviors is cognitive restructuring. This approach aims to enable the person to take care of their own “mental hygiene”, detecting negative and limiting thoughts to deactivate them.

As a result, it’s important to remember that when you experience anxiety and stress, your brain is controlled by structures such as the amygdala, the region in charge of transmitting a sense of fear and threat. In such circumstances, our thoughts are usually negative and irrational.

Try to see your mind as a garden. In order for it to truly flourish beautifully, you need to eliminate thoughts such as, “I’m going to fail!” “I’m not going to give 100 percent!” Or, “My opponents are going to overtake me!”

Manage stress before a sporting competition: visualize yourself competing

Visualization is an effective, appropriate way to manage stress before a competition. It’s a mental test that can achieve the following:

  • You can see yourself competing, which generates self-confidence.
  • You can visualize the race, the challenges of the match, or any other circumstance during the competition itself.

The imagination is a valuable tool. With it, we can anticipate any challenge and plan how to solve it.

Build your self-confidence and self-efficacy

Albert Bandura is one of the most eminent figures in social psychology. We have him to thank for concepts such as self-efficacy, a skill whereby people are able to perceive themselves as competent, worthy, and capable of dealing with what lies ahead. How can we apply this to sport?

  • To strengthen my self-confidence and effectiveness, I need to think about my past successes. If I have got here, it isn’t by chance. I’m worthy of this and I’ve demonstrated it.
  • Behind me, there are hours of training. All that time and effort will serve me well.
  • I’m motivated. No goal is achieved without that exceptional inner strength – motivation. If I use that energy and tune into it for a purpose, I’ll be able to reduce stress and achieve good results.
Some footballers legs during a match.

Manage stress before a sporting competition: focus on performance, not results

One of the main sources of anxiety is the fear of not achieving results. You might have a fear of not scoring goals or of not qualifying for a tennis match. You might be anxious about not achieving a good time in an upcoming race.

Now, believe it or not, this isn’t a good mental approach to success. Focusing on the result inevitably makes us more nervous.

Therefore, the best way to manage stress before a sporting competition is to just focus on your performance. You need to do your best, the best that your body, circumstances, and chances allow. Don’t compete against others; compete against yourself. You’re not competing to prove anything to anyone. The only person you need to show your potential to is yourself.

What’s more, something we must never forget is that the main purpose of sport is to enjoy it! If sport is a significant part of your life, make it an exciting experience. Sure, it requires certain sacrifices, but every effort must have its reward: enjoy yourself, feel good, and improve yourself every day.

Keep these tips in mind and learn to manage stress by always putting it in your favor, not against you.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Olmedilla, A., García, C., & Martínez, F. (2007). Factores psicológicos vulnerabilidad a las lesiones deportivas: un estudio futbolistas. Revista de psicología del Deporte, 15 (1), pp. 37-52.
  • Peter Olusoga, Joanne Butt, Kate Hays & Ian Maynard (2009) Stress in Elite Sports Coaching: Identifying Stressors, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21:4, 442-459, DOI: 10.1080/10413200903222921

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.