Sport Psychology: Three Techniques to Reduce 
Pre-Competition Anxiety - Paradoxical Intention, Nervous Time & Objectivity

Sport Psychology: Three Techniques to Reduce Pre-Competition Anxiety - Paradoxical Intention, Nervous Time & Objectivity

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

It's common for athletes to feel nervous before a competition. Aside from the obvious discomfort it produces, such anxiety can reduce performance by interfering with concentration, increasing muscle tension, reducing fluidity of movement and even causing tremors in small muscle groups.

Fortunately, there are techniques athletes can use to control pre-competition anxiety. Here are three techniques that can be effective.

Paradoxical Intention
Paradoxical Intention is a 20-letter term for a simple technique. Instead of trying to fight or avoid the feelings of anxiety, tell your athletes to increase their symptoms as much as they can.

For example, if their hands are trembling, tell them to magnify the shaking until it feels like their hands will shake right off. Or, if they have butterflies in their stomach, tell them to imagine the butterflies getting so big that the flapping of their wings begins to lift the athlete up into the air.

What often happens is that the athletes begin to laugh at themselves as they observe and imagine these absurd images. Laughter helps relieve the tension, allowing the athletes to stop thinking about the pressure and the outcome of their competition so they can refocus on their game plan.

Nervous Time
A similar technique, that has been used with a number of Olympic athletes, is to establish a "nervous time" before a competition. During this part of the pre-competition routine, the athletes attempt to get as nervous as they possibly can.

Often, athletes will find they can't increase their anxiety beyond a certain level, at which point it subsides. Or, by subjecting themselves to the worst fear they can experience, they realize that it can't get any worse during the competition. As a result, they gain control of their anxiety.

Before downhill ski races, former World Cup champion, Steve Podborski would sometimes take a step back in his mind and take an objective look at his sport. As a result, he'd see that ski racing was really a group of "grown men flopping down the hill at 80 miles an hour on plastic and wood sticks."

Realizing how ridiculous this really was, helped him to take winning less seriously, which decreased his anxiety.

These techniques don't work with everyone. Instructing athletes with no sense of humor to increase their nervous symptoms might actually increase their anxiety levels instead of prompting them to see their fears as being ridiculous.

As a result, it's not a good idea to use this technique on your athletes, for the first time, before an important competition. It's best to experiment with it during a less important situation.

References:1. Andrew Colman, Paradoxical Intention, A Dictionary of Psychology, Oxford University Press, 2001.
2. Jose Guze, "George Costanza, Paradoxical Intention, Crazy Wisdom and Laughter." The Healing Power of Laughter, August 2007.
3. Joe Taylor (Editor), "Nervous time." SportTalk, October 1988.

To download the pdf version of this
article, click here: Download Now

© 2022, Physical Education Update,

Bookmark and Share