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Timid about Your Test or Tournament?

Tips to Tame your Taekwondo Performance Anxiety

If you have an upcoming event, your nerves may be starting to make themselves known! Many people experience anxiety before public performances. Even professional athletes or public performers used to the limelight have reported pre-performance anxiety. Cher, Samuel L. Jackson, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Beyonce', Richard Branson, and many others have openly acknowledged having severe bouts of "Stage Fright" at different points in their careers. So it is obvious that performance anxiety does not indicate a lack of talent!

Performing before others can make us feel vulnerable. No one wants to feel they look foolish in front of others. In team performances, we may worry how our performance will affect the group or team.  People who already have social anxiety may grow especially self-conscious. If you are severely impacted by anxiety, it may be helpful to even speak with a counselor to help you through it. They have various techniques than can help.

Feelings of Anxiety

Extreme anxiety can activate the body’s fight or flight response. A person may develop sweaty hands, dry mouth, a racing pulse, a stiff body, nausea, and a trembling voice. For instance, a singer’s voice might shake, a public speaker might forget parts of their speech, or a Martial Arts student may forget their patterns. Sadly, performance anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The body’s fight-of-flight response can distract the person from the task at hand, affecting their performance, making the person feel even more nervous, which can perpetuate additional mistakes. Not a fun cycle or loop to be in.

The Importance of Managing our Performance Anxiety

The nature of the self fulfilling prophecy is that it can cause the person to believe their mistakes are evidence that their anxiety it is warranted! They may then avoid future performances or even give up on the activity they enjoy so much. But the nervousness is not "proof" of anything, it simply means that the person needs to learn to manage their anxiety levels, not give up on their activity or what they enjoy doing.

Tips to Help Yourself Stay Calm

  1. Try to Enjoy the Experience. Enjoy, you say?! I'm nervous here! As a Taekwondo student who is new to performing at an event, try to go with a positive mindset that lets you see it as another interesting and "cool" life experience. Observe the event setting, watch the other people who are now a part of "your world" and could become friends, note how the facility or space is set up, see the families that have all come together to support their loved ones, checkout the ribbons or trophies that may set out on the table, hear the laughter of children, or whatever else seems unique to this particular life's adventure. This tip may not make you feel all "Zen," and calm, but it may help you start to see the "big picture," and how you are actually a small (important nonetheless) part of it all.

  2. Remember that Making Mistakes is NORMAL. Sorry, none of us is perfect! Sad but true. Many of us were raised by "perfectionist" parents, myself included. I vowed when I became a parent, I would try hard not to lay the heavy burden of perfectionism on my son. My mantra to him (and hopefully to myself too), has been to put "real effort" into the endeavor and then let go. After reflecting on the experience, decide what you want to do better on the next time, and put practice into those areas. Don't set your bar unrealistically high to begin with, and be gentle on yourself (or your child) with any mistakes you've made.

  3. Breathe! You may be tired of hearing "Just Breathe," but It’s actually one of the easiest and quickest ways to help reduce anxiety. When we take a slow inhale through the nose and a big, long exhale through the mouth, we’re signaling to the brain and body that we’re safe, that it’s okay to calm down. Within a matter of seconds, we start to feel more relaxed. "Box Breathing," also called "Square Breathing," is a special breathing technique. In fact, even the US Navy SEALs, some of the world's toughest soldiers, use it in high-stress situations. How to do it? Step 1: Breathe in, counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs. Step 2: Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling for 4 seconds. Step 3: Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you feel re-centered.

  4. Remember Your Training! Every time you set foot on the mat (wherever that mat is) remember you’re doing the same skills you did in your regular Taekwondo classes at your own school. It's really the same thing. You have to trust in your skills and perform on auto-pilot. This means that you have done all the training and it’s time to put it to the test. Let go of perfect form and instead just react or “just do it.” Don't overthink it.

  5. Visualize Success! Visualization can be a powerful tool. Ideally, you want to practice visualization far enough ahead of your event, as it seems to have cumulative effects. Many famous athletes have used visualization to help their "game," no matter what it is. Scientific studies have shown that internal visualization of specific movements forms neural patterns in the brain, which help advance neuromuscular coordination. Since the brain instructs the muscles how to move, stronger neural patterns result in clearer, stronger movement.

Step 1: Visualize the outcome you want – When you mentally rehearse your performance in your head, make sure you see the event as how you want it to unfold. If your mental images turn negative, stop the mental tape, rewind and restart then visualize again see the performance you want to see.

Step 2: Use all your senses from a first-person perspective – Visualize your performance in detail. What would you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Feel how your body would feel as you go through the motions of your performance. Try adding in some physical movements that coincide with the visualized images. Feel the excitement of successfully fulfilling your performance goal.

Step 3: Practice frequently – Mental rehearsal for athletes is a skill that becomes better with repetition. Practice your visualization or imagery daily if you can.

Practice Makes for Excellence

Practicing a few techniques like these (and there many others you can try) can really make a difference in your state of mind, which in turn will improve your performance, and ultimately, your enjoyment of the Martial Arts.


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