How do you beat performance anxiety when competing at athletic events, or in life?
I don't have perfect answers, I do know in the martial arts world, nothing compares to performing in front of judges. Anxiety, alert. DING. DING. DING.
Yes, they are judging YOU.
In the court, being judged by your peers remains part of our judicial system. But in taekwondo?
Yes, if you want to rise to a higher rank. Not that much different than Olympic slopestyle where not only do jumps matter, but HOW how they look.
We ALL get nervous before big events. It means we care. If we didn't, then it would mean we didn't care. Weddings, public speaking, or Olympic events rattle nerves.
With THREE rules, we can overcome and exceed our expectations, regardless if you are teaching for the first time, rank testing, or at a tournament:
Rule #1. Have Fun.
That is what life is about. Yet, our lizard brain wants us to be nervous. However, we CAN control our brain response (the lizard brain, according to Seth Godin) and set the stage for optimal performance.
Rule #2. Have Fun.
Seriously, we train to WIN, but compete to have FUN. Others want us to do well, but getting first place should have nothing to do with it, especially when there are many factors completely out of our control. Once we realize this, we have mentally set the stage to do our personal best. THAT matters. If we ended up in last place, THAT doesn't matter. At least we tried. Which is better than those that chose NOT to compete (if we choose to judge).
Rule #3. Do your best.
The challenge must be approached as a personal challenge, not a competitive challenge among others. Doing your best matters most. YOUR best. That's it. Chances are if you care enough about it, you trained for it. If you trained right for it, you're prepared. And if you're prepared enough, then you'll do fine.
Instead of nerves fluttering like butterflies, form them into Geese Formation and let them work for you!
Having said this, I had fun and did my best at the 2014 American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Spring Nationals in Anaheim, CA this weekend. I met new friends. Challenged myself. And built confidence... things money can't buy.
Beat Nerves: Easier Said, Than Done!
Yes, I was VERY nevous for my testing and my competition. However, I learned that many mountain climbers are scared of heights. For them, scaling peaks allows them to beat personal challenges. That is what martial arts in really about: conquering personal challenges. Closing my eyes and visualizing a happy place (at home with my wife and dog, for example), and breathed deeply many times. It worked. At at least my balance improved on my press kicks (foam flooring magnifies everything to the worse).
My competitors in the Men's 30-39 Black Belt 2-3rd degree division had great attitudes. I laughed a ton, which helped tame the nerves. Looking back, this group photo makes the trip to California worth the cost and effort! And if my fourth-degree black belt testing is successful, that means I am ready to compete in the 4th-5th degree division.
PS- Future self: I write this for you (Yes, you, R. J.) Please re-read before each tournament, testing, or nervous anxiety moment (even if it teaching ATA Tiny Tigers new moves in front of parents).