Advanced Yoga Sports Coach™ Annelize Ferreira shares her personal experience of competition nerves.
Ten months ago I would never have thought that I would be moving a 15 kg barbell plate 84 times from ground to over head, perform 49 unassisted pull-ups and race my way through 210 double unders (all for time) in front of a 2000 strong crowd. I was competing as part of a 6-member team at Europe’s largest *CrossFit competition: Divided we Fall CrossFit Games 2012.
As a recreational CrossFit fanatic, this was the ultimate test to track my physical progress and, compare my fitness levels against +/-236 other women attending from across the UK. Weeks of intense training and a few injury scares were finally a thing of the past and I was faced with the biggest challenge of all: Competition NERVES!! Instinctively I put in to practice the skills I gained from my Yoga Sports Science® training and took myself off to a quite corner settling into a diaphragmatic breathing pattern and repeating my positive affirmation. I was able to visualize my goal with clarity. In the midst of the crowd, heat and thumping music of the arena I found myself feeling connected to my body and the task ahead. The feeling of nervousness took on a different quality. The nerves were no longer crippling my senses or distorting my body awareness. I was ready to show what I could do…. And I succeeded!
Practical Tools For Competition Nerves
This experience made me realize how valuable sport specific yoga techniques could be in preparing athletes for the inevitable heightened autonomic “fight and flight” response they may feel on competition day. Competition day brings many challenges. It takes the athlete out of their familiar training environment and throws them into a situation where they are unable to control the external factors. The unknown may bring fear or anxiousness, which heightens the sympathetic response and causes a host of unpleasant experiences throughout the body. The athlete is no longer able to respond dynamically to unexpected challenges and self-doubt may creep in. We have all heard even the most elite athletes saying that they have trained for hours but that on competition day it all fell to pieces. As a competitive swimmer in my high school years I remember clocking the best breaststroke times in training with effortless technique. Come competition day and I would swim a completely different race; hitting some of the worst times in my age group.
My body and mind were not always able to respond to the competition day challenges and I did not have the practical tools to control my body’s autonomic responses.
Equilibrium and the Autonomic Nervous System
In my quite corner, preparing myself for my CrossFit workout, I realized just how powerful the sport specific yoga techniques where in establishing equilibrium in the autonomic nervous system. The techniques allowed me to take conscious control of my body and mind rather than the mind dictating my neuro-muscular responses. I experienced first hand how as Yoga Sports Coaches™ we can add benefit to our athlete’s performance on the one day that really counts: competition day! We are equipped with many mind-body tools such as: performance breathing techniques, visualization, progressive relaxation exercises and the use of positive affirmations with a huge body of evidence to support it.
My message to Yoga Sports Coaches™:
Consider why you started, and are still practicing yoga. For most of us a regular practice allows the opportunity to connect with ourselves through movement and breath. We keep coming back to our mat to experience how the mind and body creates a feeling of physical and mental strength and stability. Allow your athlete to experience this too. As a Yoga Sports CoachTM implement the sport specific mind-body techniques (not just the structural) during coaching session. These techniques may give your athlete that 1% advantage over their competitors and could make all the difference on race day!
Recommended Reading and online resources
Douillard, J. (1995) Body, Mind and Sport: The Mind-Body guide to lifelong health, fitness, and your personal best. Three Rivers Press.
Rama,S., Ballentine, R., Hymes, A.(1998) Science of Breath: A Practical guide. Himalayan Institute Press.
About the Author of this blog:
Annelize Ferreira is a musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapist and works in her private practice in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She is a Yoga Sports Coach™ and has developed a keen interest in marrying the principles of sport specific yoga with her clinical practice to improve form and function within all walks of life. She helps people with a variety of conditions i.e. digestive issues stemming from diaphragmatic and skeletal malalignments, musculoskeletal conditions, chronic pain and stress related somatic pain. Her primary expertise is in the treatment and rehabilitation of sports injuries.
To find out more about Annelize, visit her profile page.
What is *CrossFit?