Why Relaxation and Visualization Doesn’t Work for Athletes

Why Relaxation and Visualization Doesn’t Work for Athletes

How do You Cope with Nerves? What do you or your athletes do when feeling nervous or scared before competition? Naturally, you want to relax so you can feel less nervous or tight, right?

You or your athletes might use breathing, stretching, and mental rehearsal to cope better with pressure moments in competition. But is this approach working for you?

Relaxation techniques or positive visualization might not be the answer. However, this is what most athletes do to cope with the nerves.

Using relaxation techniques and visualization is often a Band-Aid for the tension and anxiety–not a long-term solution.

Relaxation May Not Always Work

Here’s a recent example to highlight how relaxation training is not always the answer to anxiety. Michael wrote in to say:

“My whole life I’ve been regarded as having an excellent physical game, but in the big moments, a lot of the time I come up short mentally. I struggle with confidence in big tournaments. I use breathing techniques, visualization, and self-talk to try and consistently bring out the best in my game. Occasionally this works, but more often than not I see myself succumb to the pressure of big moments. What’s the best approach?”

Why are relaxation techniques not working for Michael? Two reasons. He lacks confidence and he’s afraid to lose or perform badly.

My Philosophy About Mental Toughness

If you are a regular reader of our mental game tips, you know my philosophy about improving mental toughness…

High confidence, focus, and composure help athletes develop mental toughness in sports.

Relaxation training is not a long-term solution. Michael needs to work on his confidence and understand why he struggles in pressure moments.

Michael, like with many athletes, has been competing most of his life. Why do many athletes lack confidence despite having great physical skills and 10 or more years of practice and experience in sport?

Michael under performs in completion and now sees himself as a choke. And his solution to the problem–relaxation and visualization–is not working for him.

If you can relate to Michael’s situation, what steps can you take improve confidence and cope better with pressure?

4 Tips for Competitive Confidence

1. Rely on your years of experience for confidence, not the last play or shot. Confidence is based on several years, not immediate performance.

2. Uncover what’s killing your confidence, what I call the confidence-killers, such as doubt, high expectations, self-critical thinking, etc. and over come them.

3. Take greater control of your confidence; don’t leave it to chance. Be proactive with your confidence instead of reactive: allowing your last shot or play affect confidence.

4. Understand that self-confidence comes from within and not other people, that’s why it’s called *SELF* confidence.

If you want to improve your mental game quickly, check out our sports psychology coaching programs for athletes.


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