Tuesday 24 March 2015

A Note on Nervousness

What I've learnt about Controlling Nervousness during Competitions 

No matter how many climbing competitions I go in (whether it be a World Cup, Nationals, States or even just a local social comp) I have to admit that I get nervous at every single one. It’s not a bad thing… in fact, I believe nerves are an incredibly important part of our competition preparation and mindset. As we all know however, if misunderstood and left untrained, nervousness can be detrimental to our performance.
I’ve read a few books, studied a little about it at university and even chatted to a sports psychologist about the best way to deal with nerves and performance anxiety. It’s all well and good to recognize what causes it and why it’s good or bad, but the only way to properly learn how to deal with your own personal stress and nervousness is from experience. Learning to understand how your body reacts to stress/pressure, when do you perform at your best, and what was difference in your mental state that made you perform so well?

Open A Females just before finals at Tasmania Lead State Titles 2015. Cameron Johns Photography

Why am I Nervous?
I believe it all comes down to pressure. We all have our own reasons for being nervous, thus putting pressure on ourselves to do well. For me, it is a very personal battle. I have a habit of putting enormous amounts of pressure and expectations on myself despite the level of competition. It means I always try my hardest, but it also means that if I don’t remember to control my nerves, I can easily fall victim to performance anxiety.

The Fine Line
As I said before, I think it is important to be a little nervous and put this pressure on ourselves. It keeps us in check, it pushes and motivates us to try harder, but if not handled correctly it can easily shake us off the wall. It is a very fine line between being under-excited and over-excited for the competition. It’s that tricky middle ground we’re looking for if we want to achieve optimal performance. How we achieve this optimal state is different for everyone, and something personal I learn more about with each competition I go in.

But When Am I Ready?
Part of why it’s so difficult to find this optimal middle ground is because there’s obviously no personal gauge telling you when you’ve reached it. How do I know when I’m in the best mental state to climb the wall? Do I need to relax more… or am I not excited enough? I ask myself these questions at every competition. The best way to know is to think back to your mindset throughout past experiences. When have you performed really well in a high-pressure environment and things just seemed to come naturally?
Despite the amount of pressure and expectations I put on myself… from what I’ve learnt so far, I perform best when I try to let this pressure go for a moment. By the time I’m at the comp and ready to climb, the pressure and amount of psych I need to push myself for the climb will always be there, whether I think about it or not. My best and most natural performances have come from when I focus on relaxing a little, having fun, thinking back to all the training I’ve done and just letting all that hard training and preparation show something for itself.

The Zone
The circumstances are different at every competition and rarely do they run just as we’ve planned or visioned. Sometimes you’ll be waiting all day to finally climb and by that stage you’re motivation is incredibly low. Sometimes it’ll be colder than you’re used to and it’s difficult to warm up. Maybe your competitors won’t stop mentioning that sausage you ate for lunch and how much it’ll weigh you down. Maybe you’re flight was delayed and your hotel was terrible and you had an awful night’s sleep, or you came down with a cold that morning and you feel on the edge of death! 
Whatever the unexpected circumstance, if you want to perform optimally it is important to stop for a second and find your zone, rather than letting it throw out your mental game. Don’t let the unexpected circumstance make you fall off the wall before you’ve even begun climbing! Instead, see them as challenges which give you more motivation to reach the top. This type of thinking, for whatever reason has been one of the most effective ways at getting me in the best zone to climb. I want to be able to perform my best, even when I’m at my worst… What greater challenge is there?

Preparing for my final's route at Tasmania Lead State Titles 2015. Cameron Johns Photography

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