Winning the Battle Over Your Athletic Fears

All athletes must conquer fear. If fear swells inside an athlete’s mind, it will block the path to success and interfere with their ability to achieve their goals.

The daunting aspect of fear is that it presents itself in many forms:
• Fear of embarrassing yourself on the big stage
• Fear of losing
• Fear of falling apart under pressure
• Fear of not meeting the expectations of others
• Fear of injury or re-injury
• Fear of not accomplishing your goals
• Fear of panicking at critical moments of competition
• Fear of success and raised expectations
• Fear of being benched or losing playing time
• Fear of falling out of favor with your coach
• Fear of failing
• Fear of being the reason your team lost
• Fear of not getting a scholarship

You can probably identify with a few of these fears and, most likely, can detail how these fears have held you back from your potential.

If you think of fear in sports, rock climbing is fraught with mental and physical danger. Rock climbers need to deal with fear quickly at a moment’s notice before dangling off a cliff by their fingers hundreds of feet from the ground. Though rock climbing is perilous, your sport also has its own unique physical and mental challenges. If you are to ascend to greater heights in your sport, then you must, like a rock climber, learn to manage your fears.

Since, fear is the result of reliving past mistakes or focusing on future expectations, the most effective method of managing fear is to be present in the present. Karen Lo, sport psychologist and former competitive swimmer, instructs rock climbers and athletes from other sports to immerse themselves to win the battle over their fears.

LO: “Therefore the climber’s concentration is not in the present moment [when afraid]. Focusing on the task at hand will help direct the climber’s attention back to the ‘now’.”

Imagine how high you could climb in your sport if you learned to win the battle over fear.

Effective Strategy for Managing your Athletic Fears:

Avoiding fear is never a good option. Avoiding fear tends to foster and increase the amount of fear you are experiencing.

To manage fear, it is best to acknowledge your fear, question the validity of the fear, then use specific strategies to relax your body and calm your mind.

For example, a golfer may fear missing an easy putt, “I always miss these 5-foot putts. It is embarrassing to choke all the time. I will be the laughing stock of the team.”

After you identify the fear, ask yourself, “Is this true in every case? Do I always miss these putts? Remember that time when I sunk that putt on the 18th hole to break my previous score?”

Now, it’s time to go into action mode and move into a more composed state. You can switch your focus from your internal thoughts to multisensory stimuli such as the feel of the putter in your hand or taking deep breaths and noticing your lungs filling with oxygen and your diaphragm relaxing as you exhale.

Try this strategy in practice. Soon after, you will notice that your previous fears aren’t as overwhelming as they once were.