An important part of sport preparation is learning to relax.
In order to relax you need to be able to spot and control signs of anxiety.
The main trick is to recognise the signs early, like when your mouth starts to dry up before you've even stepped into the changing rooms!
Then you'll be in a position to respond and get your nerves working for you, not against you.
The first step is gaining control of anxiety and recognising the signs early, such as butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms and a dry mouth.
Make sure you are aware of when you get hyped up and when your anxiety levels increase, especially when you are learning or performing physical skills.
There are many ways to relax, through your muscles and through deep breathing.
You can also use some positive mind control to channel all that energy into a great performance.
The following exercises should help you to relax:
Relaxing through deep breathing slows down your heart rate.
Talking to yourself in a positive way will also help you to calm down.
Sometimes your coach can use 'positive talk' to help get yourself to a level ready for competition.
Another strategy for managing anxiety is to think about your job in the game.
Focus on what it is you need to do, such as marking a particular player or aspects of your technique.
Try not to think about beating the other team or individual, or the consequences of losing.
TIPS TO UNWIND
If you concentrate on doing your own job well, the rest will follow.
Begin by loosening your clothing and remove your shoes.
Lie flat on your back, feet about 12 to 18 inches apart, arms at your sides and aim to go as limp as you can from head to foot.
Work through the various areas of your body as listed below:
Legs: Lift your legs off the floor and hold for 10 seconds, then let them 'flop' back down.
Buttocks and thighs: Clench your muscles then relax them.
Stomach: Tighten your stomach and hold, then relax.
Back and neck: Imagine your back and neck flowing into the floor or bed and relax.
Arms and shoulders: Clench your fists and tighten arm muscles then flop.
Jaw: Clench your teeth for 30 seconds then relax.
Face: Tighten your face muscles by scrunching up your face, then let them go slack.
Eyes: Roll your eyes as far as they will go to the right, to the left, look up and look down as far as possible, then close your eyes and relax them.
Once you have flexed each area and let it 'go' by tensing then relaxing, breathe deeply in and out three times.
Hold your breath in and release it away for the count of four seconds.
Think of somewhere you find particularly relaxing, the countryside, the seaside etc, and focus on how relaxed you are feeling.
PHRASES TO CHILL
Here are some phrases you can tell yourself to help you relax.
'I feel very relaxed ... all the tension is going out of me as I exhale and good feelings are coming into me as I inhale.
When I am playing my sport, I will be able to take a few deep breaths and by saying, "easy" will be able to tell myself to relax whenever I feel overly tense.
When I'm playing, I will recall the good feelings I am experiencing now and they will automatically return to me.
Imagine all this happening as you say it to yourself.
You should now feel very relaxed!
When you feel completely chilled bring your thoughts back to the present and slowly open your eyes.