Archive for April, 2011
Two athletes of similar levels and talents go head to head at the biggest competition of their lives. They both have sacrificed much, they both want it more than anything, they both have worked as hard as they can to prepare for the moment. One walks away the victor with a life time best and the other competes under par and walks away with the loss. What is the difference?
While there are many factors that can play into a victory or a loss, for a lot of athletes it can be the debilitating emotion of fear. Fear of what? Fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of making mistakes, generally it’s a fear of everything and anything out of their control. On some levels, most of us feel a certain amount of fear (nervousness, excitement, etc.) whenever faced with something large. The difference between us and what will determine the outcome is how we face it, how we deal.
I always think if you don’t feel a certain amount of fear, you’re probably not all that emotionally invested in the task. You’re just out to have fun or just going through the motions. And that is fine, but when you’re really dedicated and you’ve sacrificed a lot, you have more to lose and from that comes fear.
What is Fear?
I’m not talking about being afraid when I speak of fear, though it can include that. When I speak of fear in competing, I’m speaking about nervousness, trepidation, pressure from yourself or others. It’s the butterflies in your stomach, your racing heart beat, if you’re like me then it’s your internal monologue. Fear is that energy you get when faced with a big challenge.
How Can Fear Hurt Your Competition?
Fear is a natural reaction and mostly harmless, but your reaction to fear can make it hurt or help you. Fear itself doesn’t help you. It takes your mind off what you need to do and focuses on what ifs. It can eat away your confidence as you think about the possibilities of what could go wrong. It can hurt your competition by making you hesitate or second guess yourself. I know myself, I’ve focused in years passed on doing things right, instead of trying to just throw far and win. Fear feeds on fear and it can be easy to get caught and not sure how to get out.
My fears of competing and losing first came in 2005 when I didn’t make the US World Team. A seed of doubt was planted and I nurtured it instead of dealing with it. I realized that sometimes hard work wasn’t enough and there was a chance I could let myself down. My fears grew even more so from last year. Coming off a PR in 2009, I was confident; starting a new program, I was excited. When 2010 turned out like it did, it built up more doubts…. I wasn’t healthy, I was depressed, I was broke, I was alone, and I was lost. Maybe I was finished, maybe I lost it, maybe I couldn’t do anything without Stewart. It made it hard to trust others, myself. I second guessed everything because I knew I could believe in something and give it 100% and then some and I could still fail…
My fears fed more fears until the point when I opened this year in a small hammer meet for practice it was almost debilitating…
I felt silly for being in the game for this long and still psyching myself out at meets. I tried to ignore it, I tried to pretend and then I realized, it wasn’t going away until I faced it.
Facing Your Fears:
First thing is first, it doesn’t just go away. Sometimes you can ignore your doubts, but the higher the pressure, the more easily doubt can seep in. So what do you do? Well, I’m a reader, so I turned to books, I read about mental toughness, visualization, accounts of people who have dealt with it, and I learn. It does take practice. You don’t heal over night as fear and doubts aren’t built over night, they fester and grow.
So I recognized that I had fear, I analyzed what it does to me, I see how I react and what I do, and I know that fear is natural. There are a lot of things I have no control over, but I can control myself and I can control how I react to fear. Fear cannot hurt me, but I can hurt myself by giving in to it.
Instead of freaking out when my first throw is a foul or greatly under what I should throw, I focus on what I need to execute on the next two throws. The throw is done and I cannot let it affect the future or the outcome. If someone throws a PR, I don’t press or worry, I execute what I need to do, I stick to my training and my plan and know that it will work if I work it. I don’t pretend nothing bothers me, I recognize that and use logic and focus to counteract it.
Can you have fear and still be confident?
Yes, yes you can. I still am working on facing my fears. It’s something I do with every throw at practice, every meet, and when I’m thinking and mentally preparing. With each day, my confidence grows. There are set backs and I have a strong group of supporters now who keep me on track (thanks Coach, Sam, Mel and friends!), so I don’t get caught in a dark spiral.
I still have a small amount of fear, but you can turn that energy into something positive. Carmello Anthony used the quote that, “There are two types of pressure: pressure felt and pressure applied.” I want to be the one applying pressure, not feeling it and that’s just a matter of perception.
I still believe if you don’t feel nervous or some sort of fear, you don’t care enough. I’ve put a lot of myself in track and into succeeding, I have a lot riding on my success, so of course I still get nervous. But I also know what I’m capable of and so every time I’m out there, I use that energy to throw far and to tell myself I’m getting another step closer.
How do you deal with nervousness? What are your tricks to help yourself out? I’m curious to see.
A little secret: My skirts are my uniform, they transform me into my alter ego that is capable of anything. When I put on my skirt and dress up for a meet, it’s a transformation. Like when a super hero puts on his/her uniform, he/she become more than just a person, they become super. I feel like that and it makes me feel ready to do extraordinary things. Don’t even get me started on my red lipstick! lol