Fear can be an athlete’s worst enemy…or it can be one of his/her greatest assets. Whether it’s simply an anxiety raising inner questions about one’s ability…or downright distress, it will be the athlete’s skill at overcoming or controlling this fear that helps determine success or failure for any given moment in time.
In most cases…inner fear represents a certain level of respect for one’s circumstance.
When athletes face situations that they are unsure of…or that they may not quite be comfortable with yet…their fight or flight response kicks in. Respiration and heart rate increase, blood flow to muscles increase (while decreasing to less necessary body processes), along with several other physical changes, as part of the body’s fight or flight response. Basically, the body is preparing itself for intense physical movement.
Now that all might sound great for athletes performing difficult skills or that are in competitive situations, however, it isn’t all that simple. You see, even though the body can move at peak levels of performance, any inner fear causing a “fight or flight” response can just as easily hold one back from what they are capable of. Kind of like an inner paralysis so-to-speak where one might hesitate…or use more explosive energy than required for said movement, or even create inefficient and ineffective movement patterns, none of which would be a good thing in competition.
Even though overcoming one’s fears is an aspect all competitive athletes (in any sport) must conquer, in the sport of gymnastics…fear is a common occurrence. In fact, without it the risk of injury would be great as these athletes would have little respect for the dangerous skills they perform.
In addition, not only can the skills in gymnastics be of particularly high risk, the competitive arena itself brings with it its own set of psychological dilemmas. It really is just the athlete on an apparatus competing in front of the crowd, as one’s teammates can only support from the sidelines.
And who better to discuss fear in sports than an Olympic Gold Medalist in gymnastics, Peter Vidmar:
All great points:
- That fear is normal.
- That it demonstrates a level respect for what one is doing.
- To trust in one’s coach builds inner confidence which helps one overcome their fears.
- To use fear as a competitive advantage by going all out and not hesitating.
- And to let your level of fear and respect help by helping to dictate proper skill progressions…doing things one step at a time.
Awesome perspective, Peter!!!
Reference: The information in this piece and the video provided came from Teen Champion Mindset: Mental Toughness Training For Youth Athletes. It is a great site where one can gain further information on the concept of mental toughness…an essential ingredient to athletic excellence and success.
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