How to Enjoy The Pressure of Competition
One of the most common issues athletes face is the overwhelming pressure that they feel before and during competition. Along with this pressure comes a shift in focus and an often fragile state of confidence. Many athletes then look for ways to improve their mental performance by asking how they can improve their confidence, stay more relaxed, and quiet the mind (avoid over-thinking). But the problem with many athletes goes beyond just the mental skills that they have not learned or mastered. With many athletes they must also learn how to find and maintain a state of happiness when competing. Research on Happiness and the zone shows a steady pattern that when athletes fully apply themselves to these principles are able to get better results and enjoy their sport in even the toughest situations. Below are some ways that athletes can start working on increasing enjoyment during competition and find happiness.
First, we know that an athlete's mind must be absolutely clear. It is impossible to achieve enjoyment in any part of competition unless an athlete's focus is fully concentrated on that activity. For an athlete, it could be fully focused on the target, or the ball, or an athletes cadence. It's what I like to call a form of "athletic meditation".
Second, in order for an athlete to reach a state of happiness they must think of themselves as one with the current activity and not as separate. Often, athletes struggle with this skill because their mind races to things outside of the act itself. In this stage athletes may "become their own coach" while they are performing an act, critiquing their every decision, and are unable to "get out of their own way". Negative thoughts may arise that weaken performance such as thoughts about future criticisms from others, feelings of defeat before the defeat has happened, and more.
Third, The purpose of finding happiness during competing is to continue to experience happiness. When experiencing happiness, many athletes become tempted to shift their focus to an external goal such as an end result (winning). This temptation then interrupts their high level of concentration; therefore, lowering performance and decreasing happiness.
In summary, as an athlete, parent, or coach it important to include happiness among the athlete's goals during competition and work with the athlete to discover ways of increasing enjoyment under pressure as well as continue to enhance their overall sport related skills.