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Flowing Through Stress

Coach/Entraîneur: Lyle Cameron Photo: Andre Forget (CAC/ACE)

Something is stressful only if you view it as stressful, accept it as stressful, and experience it as stressful. […] The best way to avoid feeling stressed in situations that previously resulted in you feeling stressed is to remind yourself that you are not required to be stressed in this situation. […] Focus on slow, relaxed breathing and remind yourself to relax as you breathe out in the lead-up time to your performance, test, game, or competition. Slow, relaxed breathing is always a good thing to focus on to relax or turn down the intensity in potentially stressful circumstances or contexts.

Changing channels is another effective way to reduce stress or regain control quickly on-site in performance contexts or other potentially stressful situations. Think of it as changing channels on your TV. If you are on a mental channel you don’t like or don’t want to be on at this time, a channel that is not helping you, simply press your thumb hard against your first or second finger and change channels mentally. As you press your thumb hard against your finger, think to yourself change channels, change channels from stressed to relaxed, from negative to positive, from distracted to fully connected. By choosing to make positive shifts in your focus, you can enhance your positive perspective; make your focus stronger, better, more consistent, or more complete; eliminate doubts or fears; and relax your breathing. […]

You can reduce unnecessary stress in your life by setting realistic performance goals, focusing fully on executing your task, and knowing in your heart and soul that you remain a good and valued person regardless of your performance outcome in any context on any given day. […]

Deciding to be positive and fully focused before you enter your performance context will help you make the positive changes you are seeking. […]

What are you saying to yourself right now about your capacity to improve your focus and make the positive changes you need to make to consistently perform to your capacity? This is a good place to start establishing and nurturing a powerful, positive, fully connected focus. Decide right now to move forward each day with a powerful, positive, and fully connected focus.

From In Pursuit of Excellence, Fifth Edition by Terry Orlick 
Copyright © 2017 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Available to order from Human Kinetics Canada at www.HumanKinetics.com or by calling 1-800-465-7301.

What techniques do you use with your teams and athletes to help them cope with the stress of competition and performance? How do you help them focus on the task at hand instead of getting overwhelmed? 

Darryl Fitzgerald – Lawn Bowls – Waterloo – 7 years

“For my players, we often break an event or competition down into smaller parts – sets, games and/or days to view each as a small pocket of performance in a grander scheme. We try not to focus on the podium or the ultimate end goal as that can be the overwhelming part of the whole experience. If you play a bad game or have a bad day, we can handle it on a smaller scale and then move to the next one, if you have a great game or day we can look at what got that result and try to carry it over to the next one. If you keep looking at the big picture and see your name move up and down the standings, it can really play with your mental state and emotions. Focus on today and we will deal with tomorrow when it comes. Eventually, all the good and bad results will cumulate to the end goal, but we don’t need to focus on that lofty end goal all the time. It keeps things at a level and a size that is easy to handle and work with and often creates less stress and anxiety than looking at a whole week or month of competition.”

Deanna – Cross Country, Basketball – Brampton, Peel – 10 years

“…I am a big believer in mindfulness and visualization before a big event. Before a big game or race, I have my athletes place finger on finger, close their eyes and breathe 5 long, deep breaths. Once they are relaxed, I lead them through a vizualization of their game or race, asking them to picture themselves at different points of the event. I keep everything positive and do it with them. It is amazing how much more relaxed they are when they start.”

Rebecca Brown – Equestrian – Cobourg – 30+ years

“…Over the years of preparing students for the show ring experience I have learned many techniques. One of the best is breathing and visualization. Recently, as a Harmony Horsemanship Instructor Level 2 and Centered Riding Instructor Level 2, I incorporate ensuring not only the rider is relaxed but that the calm connection between horse and rider are paramount. If the bond is strong and the trust is there, confindence will follow.”

Brenda Lanois – Trampoline and Tumbling, Artistic Gymnastics – Saskatoon – 30ish years

“…We use a lot of visualization and breathing and we are constantly taking routines apart and working trouble sections. During training, when things are not going so well, the kids will sit with their eyes closed and visualize what they want their routine to look like. Then they go to the trampoline or double – mini and (hopefully) perform what they saw. If there is a section causing them issues we pull a 3 or 4 skill portion, and work it until they are comfortable with it. During a competition they do the group warm up, then have a good look at the equipment they will be bouncing and tumbling on and, and visualize themselves performing their routines. Sometimes I still get nervous for them but I try never to let them see that.”

David Willie Oduro  – Basketball – Toronto – 5 years

“…Make my players play dodgeball to take the stress off their mind and have some fun by getting away from basketball for couple minutes.”

Jen Powles – Basketball, Tennis – Cobourg – 30 years

“…Stress is heightened by not being able to be able to predict what’s going to happen in a situation or have control of a situation. As a coach, I try to replicate as much as possible what my athletes are going to experience in a game. This way they understand what their choices are in a variety of situations in advance of a competition. The drills they do are presented in a context (eg. it’s the last two minutes of the game and the have to preserve a lead or they’re losing by a few points, using a shot clock, bringing in spectators), so they get more comfortable with the stress associated with these situations. I also try to figure out which of my athletes love the stress of performing and those who aren’t ready for it yet. Not everyone is going to be at the same place mentally at the same time. Communication is key!”

Pierre Laframboise – Gymnastics – Kingston

“…I would also recommend applying the ‘Dare’ technique as explained by greater and author Barry McDonagh. You can give an athlete this as yet another tool to diffuse the pre performance feelings recognizing anxious feelings as normal, accept them, then run toward them by allowing an embracing the nervous energy that the body is preparing for flight or action as opposed to being frightened. That a certain amount of nervousness for a moment causes the body to produce more cortisol and adrenaline, readying the muscles for action, then use this energy to engage. “

Sean Douglas – Basketball – Brampton, Peel Region – 8 years

“…I constantly remind my players that it’s a long season and 1 win or loss will not make or break the season. I also help them to alleviate stress of performance by stressing 100% effort when production is lacking on any given day. If you’re not scoring points you can do other things to help your team succeed.”

Gillian Ross Erasmi – Equestrian – Burlington – 28 years

“…As we all know a great deal of the stress we put on ourselves (as coaches/athletes/people) is due to uncertainty and the desire to do well. In equestrian sport your partner or “team mate” is a 1200 lb animal with his/her own ideas and emotions. I have riders work through a system of visualization in practice where they think what they want, feel what they need to do and what the horse should feel like in an ideal situation then put it into action or “ride it”. Whether test on the flat or over fences it is important to know what could go wrong and how to work with that and make corrections as we go. We work though this in practice also. Pre-competition visualization includes the “perfect” ride but it also includes possible areas of difficulty and the adjustments the rider can make to get back on track quickly. This works well in our sport as it gives the rider confidence that they can handle it when things aren’t perfect.”

Christina – Swimming – Hamilton – 5 years

“…I get my athletes to practice yoga and mediation. It calms the mind and allows you to think clearly of what is ahead and I’ve noticed that it decreases them getting overwhelmed with stress of competition”