We have all been there before. Many lacrosse players find themselves having pregame or performance anxiety when playing either a very important game or their very first tryout. Some people dislike the anxious feeling as it interferes with their performance while some players are able to use the nerves to help them compete at their best. Most athletes aren’t that lucky to be born with a superpower to turn anxiety into positivity. That’s why in this post, I want to help players like yourself to learn a few great tips to rewire your mindset and learn how to deal with lacrosse pregame anxiety.
I want to start off by saying being nervous is neither good nor bad. It’s a normal human sensation we feel on a regular basis. Biologically speaking, what is happening when you are nervous is your brain perceives something threatening or harmful (even when in fact it isn’t true) and tells your body you should avoid and run away from it. This psychology is a relic of the past when humans were constantly exposed to life-threatening events. But that situation has changed drastically now! The more likely root cause of your anxiety comes from your fear of playing poorly and the uncertainty of the outcomes. So we will talk about some specific tactics to help you eliminate the fear and uncertainty as much as possible.
Inverted U Theory
In sports psychology, there is a well-known theory called the Inverted U Theory that illustrates the relationship between pressure and performance.
What this theory demonstrates is that to achieve the best performance, athletes need a medium level of nervousness. This allows athletes to compete at their best when they are excited and energetic yet composed and relaxed. However, too much nervousness or too little nervousness will create a negative impact on players’ performance. Thus, the aim is to keep a healthy level of stress to achieve the best outcome.
Address Your Fear
If you have read my post on building mental toughness, you might be familiar with this concept which is examining your own fear. The reason why I am not a huge fan of the conventional wisdom “let go of your gear” is the more we try to press the anxiety the worse it gets. Instead, what you should do is embrace the fear, and acknowledge you are nervous. There’s nothing wrong with that since it’s totally normal.
Explore why you are nervous by asking yourself the question and being totally honest with the answers. Whether it’s because you are pressured to perform well or the opposing team is very aggressive, be 100% honest with yourself and express them. Likely as you express these fear and anxiety to yourself, you will start to relax.
I am such a big fan of this mental exercise because it’s highly effective and works almost every time. The biggest enemy to solving anxiety is to deny its existence. You must embrace it, study it and get to know it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we feel nervous when we feel uncertain about how well we are able to perform. So the best way to solve this is to do some light exercises and practices the day before. This helps to get a sense of how your body is feeling. In this post, I wrote that you should do some basic conditioning and perform a few wall ball sessions to maintain your best performance level.
During your practice, focus on the motion and the delivering. Don’t give yourself some challenging goals in these sessions. If you failed poorly, this will inversely add an unnecessary mental burden on top of your anxiety. It’s more productive to go into the practice in peace and with an open mind. And make sure you are going through the motion correctly and hitting all the fundamentals. If you are an attacker, go through some shooting drills. If you are a defender, do some light footwork drills. Let go of the need to control your performance and let it happen. In other words, the practice session leading up to the game shouldn’t be judged based on the quality of your techniques or outcome. It’s to get a feel for the ball and your body.
Pregame Prep Talk
Now you have confronted your fear and put in a few sessions to feel ready. There’s one more thing that is very effective and is quite popular among laxers called the “And” method. This method helps lacrosse players and athletes, in general, to change their mental attitude when playing under great pressure. This mental trick is easy to execute. Instead of simply focusing on your bad nervous energy, tell yourself, “I can feel the nerves and at the same time I can play the best level I could and win the game.”
Trust me. These words are so powerful. So this is a great method to utilize on top of facing your fear. Before you go out there to play a championship game next time, in the locker room or on the bus, remind yourself, “I am ok to be nervous and I am still able to crush it out there and win this game.” You might hear this before, most sports are 70% or more mental. I would argue on game days sports are 95% mental. So you must start training your mental muscle to break through these mental challenges so you can perform and deliver the best results possible.
Enjoy The Process
So what if you just can’t manage to bring out the best energy from your nervousness? That’s not the end of the world. In fact, in your early career, it’s indeed very hard. But luckily as you start playing and keep the ball rolling and the feet moving, you soon will forget the emotions but focus on the game. Remember the drills you worked on a couple of days ago. Play with a team spirit and don’t be afraid to be aggressive going for the ground balls. Embrace the challenge from the tough opponent. Have fun and cheer for your teammates. Every game is a reminder of how you play lacrosse because you enjoy the competition.
What’s even better is if your team is able to score first or score a brilliant goal, use that as a positive affirmation to boost your confidence further. “We aren’t afraid of them! We are the better-performing team. We will win this game!” Once you can establish this positive feedback loop, you will truly set yourself free and become invincible.
Have a good night of sleep
For the last tip, I would like to give you something more tangible which is having a good night of sleep is not talked about enough. Based on my personal experience, when I don’t have a good night’s sleep the day before, both my brain and my body will have a hard time achieving a higher level of performance. Poor quality of sleep causes unnecessary challenges to your performance the day after. But if you are nervous how to ensure a good sleep?
What I found very effective is to meditate for 20 minutes before going to bed. It sounds ridiculous, right? How do you meditate for 20 minutes? Here’s the truth: our brain is constantly hijacked by this noisy inner voice that can’t stop talking. You probably can’t sleep because your mind is talking to you about the fear, the stress and whatnot. Meditation is the only way to calm your mind down and actually start to relax. You don’t need to force yourself to focus on breathing or anything. You just need to watch where your mind is going. By the end of the exercise, you will be in the perfect state to go to sleep.
To wrap up this post, I hope these tips will help you answer the question, “how to deal with lacrosse pregame anxiety”. They have proven to be tried and true to many former college pals including myself. Being an athlete isn’t easy. There is the physical challenge but also the mental challenge. We must train both aspects to truly improve as a player.
With all that said, go out there and have fun! Be grateful that you get to play this amazing sport and meet some amazing friends along the way.
Read also: Read This To TRain For Lacrosse Tryouts