In sport psychology, the first thing to acknowledge about conquering fear is that we never truly conquer our fear.

In sport psychology, the first thing to acknowledge about conquering fear is that we never truly conquer our fear.

To truly conquer fear would require us to eliminate an important part of ourselves. The physiology of fear originates from a part of our self that has been honed throughout human evolutionary history. A history that reaches back to a time before we evolved into the human beings we are today.

There is no better way to help your athlete with overcoming fear than to understand it first, in order to use it instead of letting it control. 

Recognizing Our Fears

Whether you are dealing with fear of failure, fear of losing, or fear of competition or performance to best place to start as a sports parent or coach is by understanding the body’s physiological responses to fear. Mental toughness can only improve once these responses are understood and recognized. 

See if you can recognize your own threat responses in the diagram below.

It is far more effective to learn to recognize fear,  and then harness it. This way you take control of your responses, and use them to your advantage.

Next, help your athlete recognize their own fear responses and then see if you can work on steps to take once the fear responses kick one. One is simply: awareness. 

Here are some more fear-regulating tips for peak performance. 

Fear Regulating Techniques to improve sports performance with your athlete:

Mindfulness

Affirmations and self-talk play an important role in reducing fear in sports competitions, but here we talk about the purpose of mindfulness. The mindfulness process helps us feel quieter so we can better focus on the task at hand and embrace what we cannot know.

The practice of mindfulness originating from Buddhism teaches athletes how to have a calm and open mind. It is a practice of awareness in which we learn to attend to anything and everything that can come to our attention. 

The process of noticing without judgment and cultivating bare awareness develops a more resilient and flexible mindset in the face of fear. Without needing to engage or counter thoughts, feelings and sensations we allow them to be there. We find space between our whole self and the part of ourselves that can feel alarming and stuck. It is from this non-judgmental process in which we learn to comfort and calm our fearful part.

Breathing

Breathing in a slow and steady rhythm helps athletes regulate the fear response. When athletes understand the relationship between the breath and the physiological response they can quickly downshift levels of arousal that interfere with sports performance

Under the stress of competition, athletes can get into breath patterns that increase fear and anxiety. Unhelpful breath patterns can include over-breathing (fast rate) or breath holding. These patterns, triggered by the intensity of competition, are automatic and outside of our conscious awareness. When we make breathing practices part of our training we begin to gain awareness of these unhelpful patterns.

Heart rate variability training teaches athletes a breathing pattern that brings them into a mindful state of awareness that counteracts the fear response. Athletes are taught to coordinate their breath with the acceleration and deceleration of heart rate. Establishing breath awareness and pacing as a routine during competition is important so we learn to self-regulate and quickly reduce the fear response.

The Power Of Our Mind

Imagery is a powerful training tool to overcome elements of fear in sports. Imagery training provides a safe place for athletes to experience fear-inducing situations. When we avoid situations we feel uncomfortable in and we build up greater levels of anticipatory anxiety. Repeated exposure to imagery gradually reduces levels of anxiety by allowing the physiological fear response to naturally extinguish. 

Check out our blog on imagery to learn more here!

Use the above to master your mental game coach or parent and help improve your athletes’ experience with fear.

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