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How do I cope with my emotions during training and competition?

Coping with our emotions is one of the hardest parts of training and performing. The two are highly intertwined; it is common to experience intense emotions in high-pressure situations. Emotions are discrete, automatic responses to events that prompt us with information that is meant to help us adapt and respond to our current situation relative to our goals. However, sometimes that information is not useful and can even be detrimental. The following are strategies that my athletes have found useful for coping with emotion:  
  • The simplest strategy is diaphragmatic breathing. When you are experiencing intense emotion, your energy level is likely to rise. You might feel overstimulated and unable to concentrate on what is important. Try taking five to ten deep breaths from your diaphragm in order to reset, lower your arousal, and focus on what is important. To practice, try this: Place one hand over your navel and the other on your chest.  Take a deep breath. Which hand rises? The hand on your chest should remain stationary while the hand on your naval rises on your inhale and falls on your exhale. Keep practicing until you’re able to consistently breathe from your belly. This type of breathing delivers more oxygen to your system and reduces the psychophysiological symptoms of emotions.
  • Focus on what is important (control the controllables). Athletes experience negative emotions as a result of fixating on aspects of their situation that are out of their control (e.g., past situations, weather, fans, competition). Try focusing on things that you can control, like your performance and preparation. Next time you are in a high-pressure situation, try increasing your confidence by quickly identifying three aspects of the situation that you know you can do well. Or, mentally rehearse what you have to do to succeed. Confidence will reduce your likelihood of experiencing distressing emotions. 
  • Pre-performance routines are another great way to reduce negative emotions during training and competition. Many times, athletes don’t prepare properly and perceive uncertainty as anxiety or fear. This could be eliminated with thorough and consistent preparation. Try adopting a pre-performance checklist on your smart phone. You can have separate checklists for training, competition, and travel.

Successful athletes vary their coping strategies and should learn a broad array of coping strategies to use for different situations. Having an array of coping strategies allows athletes to effectively cope with unforeseen events during competition. Coping strategies include the following:

  • thought control
  • rational thinking
  • positive focus
  • pre-performance routine
  • time management

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.