Fear in Competition

contributed by Brian O'Reilly (Southwestern Ontario)

THE QUEST FOR OLYMPIC MEDALS IS a very difficult task. The Olympics have been the ultimate testing ground for so many athletes because of the prestige of winning an Olympic medal. The Olympics bring about a different set of pressures compared to most other events in a person’s life. In order to perform well at the Olympics, athletes always have to battle fear. Even when you fear in the moment, what you are really fearing is the outcome that happens in the future. This is what is deceptive about thinking: athletes that need to perform at a certain level with a certain skill and don’t perform that skill well because of what possibly could happen in the future.

Let’s say for example that an athlete needs to develop a tougher serve in order to perform at a higher level. Well, when the person goes to practise that serve in a game situation and produces a pressure situation on the other side of the net to increase their chances of winning, many athletes are afraid and don’t practise that serve in the competition phase. This is because of the immediate fear of losing the game in the future, which can be twenty seconds or ten minutes from now, and this cripples their own growth as an athlete.

In order for anything to be successful, under pressure, you have to practise it in situations of low pressure as well as situations of high pressure. This I believe is the process of mental training and the integration of perfect practise makes perfect.

In order to understand this more closely, let us examine the behaviour of serving. Because all behaviours are driven by four basic components, let’s examine each one of these components separately.

  1. What is the physiology of serving? In order to have a good serve when one goes back on the line, one has to be in control of their physiology. That means that the respiration, arousal level, and heartbeat all come together and there must be a relaxed intensity within the athlete’s physiology. If their breath is too rapid it could mean that they’re over-excited and because they’re over-excited, more fatigued. They are not able to stay loose and in control of their actions. One must be able to master their physiology, if they want to have a good serve.
  2. The next component is feeling. Feeling is the direct relationship to how one is experiencing that life situation of competing. If the server goes back and feels very good and confident this will only help the person stay relaxed and master their physiology. They will be inspired to serve. If a person is feeling afraid, and not very good, they will be in a cycle of doubt . Since they’re in that cycle of doubt, there is a greater potential for them not to have the correct physiology in order to stay relaxed enough to make a good serve.
  3. Now the next component is thinking. If the two components of physiology and feeling are under the athletes control, they are able to produce the right thinking in order to make an effective serve. However, if the physiology is erratic and the athlete feels poorly, then it is very hard to think clearly in order to serve or choose the type of serve needed in order to create a high level of effectiveness and put the other team in trouble.
  4. The fourth component is the acting, completing the behaviour of serving. This serving behaviour is dependent upon the other three components acting together in a relationship to produce a quality serve. A quality serve is a serve that scores a point or puts the team in trouble and limits the other team’s opportunity to score a point or to easily defend. This is also the situation of life, in our relationships. When a change is needed, we often fear that change, because that change puts us in a horrible position. And we feel insecure. Therefore we are in the cycle of doubt. When a person in a relationship sits in the cycle of doubt, the person then is controlled by that doubt and will not think or act differently. Therefore they will never feel differently, or be calm and collected in that situation.

Anything we do, where we directly effect the outcome of the situation, adds a certain pressure. The ability to manage that pressure is the ability to deal with the four components of behaviour. The management of these four components deals directly with the process of success.

Rather than the outcome of the behaviour, if we first understand and master of the process, we will create more desired outcomes.


Originally published May 21, 2008 on Coach Bri’s Blog.

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