Today, I want to focus on stress management for athletes, and how a few simple exercises can help improve upon an athlete’s mental – and physical – performance.
Recently, a very talented athlete named Sue contacted me in desperate need of help. She, like so many athletes who come into my office, was struggling with stress affecting her performance.
It’s no secret that stress is a big part of all of our lives, particularly those of teenagers and young adults. A big part of what we do here at Erika Westhoff Performance is to teach athletes how to manage the stress that they feel while training for and competing in their sport.
Fourteen-year-old Sue was no exception. She lives on the East Coast and rows crew (while many of us West Coast residents may have never heard of it, crew is quite popular on the East Coast. It is an incredibly intense sport, especially in shorter distances.
Sue was quite talented, hardworking, and very strong. The perfect candidate for her sport. However, she was feeling such high levels of stress that it was causing a sense of panic, which occasionally led to her blacking out.
Obviously, no matter how much you love your sport, it’s never a good idea to push yourself so hard that you black out…especially when your sport requires you to be in a boat in the middle of the water. It’s just not safe!
After speaking with Sue and discussing her struggles, we got straight to work. We focused on several important elements of mental training, including:
- Reviewing a detailed goal plan (highlighting not only on outcome goals, but on performance goals as well)
- How to relax the muscles in her body to bring stress levels down
- How to clear her mind of anxious thoughts to create space and disconnect in order to focus on training and races
- How to prepare properly – both for training and races (in crew, training can be just as intense as competitions, so symptoms were appearing during both)
- How to recognize and manage her thought patterns, settle her emotions, and allow the physical exertion to rise above the emotional
In a matter of weeks, Sue was making great progress, and was able to go into her training and competitions with a lower baseline of stress. This allowed her to compete in 2k races and trainings, where she began to thrive, grow in her confidence, and improve upon her performance and, ultimately, her success.
Sue’s mental training allowed her to rekindle her love of the sport and her belief that she was doing the right thing. She was in the right place, with the right sport, and she still had a bright future ahead of her.
I’m certain that you or your athlete can relate to Sue’s story. These stress symptoms appear in even the most dedicated athlete, and can rear their heads at the most inopportune moments. Even if your stress does not lead to blackouts, the effects can still be felt internally and seen in your performance. Take comfort in knowing that these stress symptoms can be easily managed, with the right training.