Team Jitters & Pre-Competition Anxiety

Blog Content:

  1. Introduction

  2. Performance Anxiety

  3. What to do before a competition


On Friday, 08 October, the coaches tested out the workouts for the upcoming Telos Partner Competition. It was definitely the most fun team meeting I have ever been a part of (in any job I’ve ever had). We all had a ton of fun, even though we were all slightly dying from the workouts. We came up with team names and really pushed ourselves and each other. Even though it was a fun event with no pressure, I still had the competition anxiety. So much so that Abby and I named our team “Team Jitters”. 

Pre-competition and performance anxiety is a common thing and everyone experiences it differently. Personally, I have pretty bad performance anxiety and have dealt with it primarily with school tests, and fitness activities/competitions. There are things I try to do to calm myself down but part of it seems inevitable. At the end of it all, it actually helps me out; however, there are some cases where it can inhibit someone from performing at their peak potential. 

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Performance Anxiety

I will be using the terms Performance anxiety and pre-competition anxiety interchangeably. This form of anxiety comes in different forms, and it’s different from the arousal butterfly feeling one gets before an event. 

Pre-competition butterflies stems from arousal and takes on the following forms:

  • Excitement

  • Physically alert

  • Clear minded and focused

  • Fast heart rate that feels natural

  • When the race starts you can relax and ‘go with the flow’

Pre-competition anxiety is different, it’s not an enjoyable feeling. It is more of a fearful feeling and can include the following:

  • You feel mentally or physically incapable of performing 

  • Inability to sleep before the event

  • Changes to your eating or drinking habits

  • You feel scared instead of excited  before the event

  • Doubt takes over

  • Physical symptoms: shallow breathing, feeling sick, and muscle tension.

Mat Fraser, the most dominant CrossFit athlete and 5x champion, has talked about his pre-competition anxiety. Before each event he vomits, dry heaves, and his mind takes over and tells him that he is not as good as the other athletes. So, if you’re feeling pre-competition anxiety, don’t worry…it’s a sign you might be the next Mat Fraser (or even better!).

Why do people get pre-competition anxiety? Well, it depends on the person. For me, my fear stems from failing after putting so much effort and training into something; my mind whirls around the thought “what if I’m actually not good at this?”.  Some other reasons that can be culprits to this anxiety are:

  • Being only results-driven and not enjoying the process/event

  • Internal and external pressure to succeed

  • Feeling like you need to win and that is all that matters

  • Setting high goals and realizing you may not be able to obtain them

  • Not being prepared; this includes poor training, rest & recovery, and nutrition

What to do before a competition

There are a ton of articles and research studies out there with analysis of pre-competition anxiety and optimal ways to minimize the feeling, or how to benefit from it. Remember that you cannot control everything and that it is natural to have these feelings. This form of anxiety is found everywhere from amateur athletes to Olympians. 

Prepare with the things you can control:

  • Sleep well: Make sure to get enough sleep. Refer to our blog on sleep hygiene to see how to optimize sleep!

  • Hydrate & eat well: This should be pretty obvious but I want to reiterate the hydration piece, because some people avoid drinking water in order to avoid using the restroom. Make sure you’re drinking enough water the days leading up to the event and the day of! When it comes to nutrition, don’t change anything drastically. Here are a few things to consider:

    • On the day before, stick to the same meals you usually eat. The only difference I recommend is changing up dinner slightly by increasing carbs slightly, ranging from 30 to 100 grams. 

    • On the day of the event, eat 1 to 2 hours before the event. This will give the food time to digest and not feel “heavy” in your stomach as you perform at maximal effort. This breakfast should be higher in carbs, moderate protein and lower fat/fiber (to avoid GI distress). This does not mean having 3 candy bars and a package of family-sized gummy bears. I recommend adding in 15 to 30 grams of carbs, in the form of a banana/easily digestible fruit, 2 slices of toast, a few rice cakes, or a bagel. 

  • Recover the day before: Do not attempt a rep-max or strenuous workout the days leading up to the event. Recover properly. If you are to workout the day before the event, make it a light workout and minimize the loads you are lifting. I suggest doing a few light recovery workouts leading up to the event with light loads on lifts and easier pace conditioning work, keeping it at a difficulty level of 4 to 6 (out of a 10 point scale). On the day before the event, do mobility work and an active recovery exercise with bands or a long walk. 

  • Pack your bag: Make sure to pack a bag for the event. Things to include are water, snacks, sunglasses, extra hair-ties, and extra clothing if needed. 

Prepare yourself mentally through the following:

  • Breathing techniques: Breathing is one of the most effective forms of meditation and relaxation. This is something that I highly recommend to release any nerves and anxiety. One technique I recommend is “to lie down, get comfortable, and begin rhythmic breathing (i.e., inhaling into the belly and exhaling). As breathing [begins to slow], participants are instructed to focus on the release of tension, relaxing every muscle of the body from top to bottom.” (Source: Garza, et. al, 2009

  • Visual rehearsal: Picture yourself performing the exercise. This will help you be realistic and develop a strategy for your execution. It can also help you realize that you are capable of performing. 

  • Talk it out: Our competition will be a partner competition, so please make sure to support each other. The goal is to build camaraderie. 

  • Create a pre-competition routine: Routines and rituals are key. Many professional athletes have a pre-competition ritual that helps them get into the mindset they need to be at their best. Develop this routine and keep it for future events and competitions. 

  • Know that you’re not the only one who is nervous.

The event on Saturday has been designed to be challenging but doable. Don’t overthink it, you have all been training hard in classes and personal training sessions…you’ll be ready to go. Just make sure to show up prepared and be ready to push yourself and your team.