How do you perform under pressure? Do you crumble, or do you rise to the occasion? When anxiety is at its peak, and people are counting on you, what do you do to stay calm? Most of us will never face anything as high-stakes as qualifying for the Olympics, or pitching in the World Series, but the experiences of high-performing athletes can serve as an example for how to navigate everyday situations. Our 2019 Cincinnati Wellness Festival featured numerous panel discussions with prominent, successful individuals across multiple disciplines. “Anxiety in High-Performance Sports” addresses what three athletes -a baseball star, an Olympic swimmer, and an international soccer phenom -implemented in their own lives to stay grounded despite meteoric success.
Cobi Jones played soccer for the US in the 1994 World Cup, after playing in high school and college. He went on to play professionally in the UK, and ended his pro career with a nine-year stint playing for the LA Galaxy. Yet despite all this success, he admitted the pre-game jitters never went away, and realizes now, he was implementing rituals and meditation to alter his state of mind, so he could attain peak performance.
Cobi says: “Interesting enough for me, my anxiety throughout my career, I had it not during training, not in the locker room. I always got along well there with my teammates, but I got it before every game. Every match, just knowing the import of what that meant. And there would be an anxiousness from my high school days until my last day as a professional. It was still there. How I handled it was almost like a meditation, in that I would always have rituals.”
He continues, “I didn’t know it then; I do now as we see mindfulness and wellness come to the forefront, that I was really putting myself in a state of meditation, of doing the same thing repetitively, over and over.”
Anxiety is not limited to the playing field, either. Major League Baseball’s Eric Surkamp played with several US teams and he even went overseas to play professionally in South Korea. Yet despite all his outward success, some of his greatest battles took place in his own head. He shared his experience with battling locker-room anxiety while admitting he was nervous being on-stage in front of our relatively small audience.
“Most of my anxiety didn’t come from on the field playing. It came from more trying to fit in in the locker-room. I’m probably more nervous now speaking in front of 40 people that I was playing in front of 40,000 people, for whatever reason.”
Eric points out he was considerably younger than his team-mates, and this was the source of a lot of his anxiety.
“I was 24 years old when I made my debut in the big leagues. I came up with a team, the San Francisco Giants, that was a very veteran-heavy team. So walking into the clubhouse with guys who had played in the big leagues for 15 -some of them 20- years…really just looking for acceptance from them was nerve-wracking in its own. And as silly as it sounds, and I know it’s been echoed by others who have come up and been in similar situations, should you go get food before the veteran players, where you should sit on the airplane. It was like those little things that if you let it get to you, it would affect your play on the field.”
As you can see from these examples, success does not obliterate anxiety. While it may look from the outside these athletes are the picture of calm, they’re still human. Through mindfulness, meditation, and paying attention to their triggers, they were able to power through and deal with their situational anxieties, and become the success stories they brought to the stage that day.
What rituals do you want to create to help calm you as you head into stressful situations? Share your ideas online using the hashtag #ShineOn, and forward this article to someone you know who may need encouragement to get through their performance anxiety.