Sage Advice: Quelling Pre-Competition Nerves

A young hammer thrower wrote me wondering how meditation might help him feel focused and relaxed before his meets. Here’s my answer.

First thing I’d say is that some of what sports psychologists would call “arousal”—the anxiety and nervous feeling you have before a meet—is a good thing. It keeps you alert and sharp. If you were totally relaxed, you’d be a wet noodle and your throw would have no power or precision.

Given that we don’t want to make you too chill, focus and the ability to relax away from the edge of freak-out are both good.

So I’d say, for focus: a counting meditation. Get comfortable, seated or lying down, and start counting your breaths. In, one; out, one; in, two; out, two. Etc. Count to 10 and start over. When your thoughts wander, bring them back to the counting. You may have to do this over and over and over.

Then for relaxation, I’d do two things. First, extend your exhalations, so that the breath going out takes longer than the breath coming in. You could breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to do this. You could even combine it with the counting meditation. Second, scan your body and notice the places that feel clenched or too tight. Imagine sending your inhalations to those spots, one by one, and use your exhalations to relax in those areas.

All told, this could be 10 minutes or even less on the sideline before your meet.

Read lots more about coping with nerves so you can perform at your personal best in Racing Wisely—available in print, e-book, and audiobook editions.