Sports Psychology Anxiety: Learn to Channel Anxiety for Optimal Performance

Sports Psychology Anxiety: Learn to Channel Anxiety for Optimal Performance
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A young boy steps up to the plate, bases are loaded…the score is 3-2, down by just one run. The first pitch hurls into the strike zone, strike! His bat never moved an inch.  His heart is pounding, thump, thump, thump…here comes the second pitch, STRIKE two! Shouts the umpire. He looks to his coach and parents in despair, as he thinks, “ two strikes, no balls, and two outs…I can’t strike out. Here comes the third pitch…

We have all heard the broken hearted athlete’s story of what if’s and should haves. Their hopes and dreams crushed as they miss out or mess up on the big play. Why is it that some athlete’s fail why others succeed? Maybe you are the type of athlete who excels under pressure and channels the anxiety into optimal sports performance, but why and how do you do that? Can you learn how to channel anxiety for sports performance? There are a number of studies on sports psychology anxiety and how it affects athletes during sticky situations. We have compiled a few points in hopes of helping you channel that anxiety, oh and don’t worry we will fill you in on little Sam’s at bat by the end of this article.


Sports Psychology: What is Anxiety?


Anxiety is a natural reaction to threats in the environment and part of the preparation for the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is our body’s primitive and automatic response that prepares it to ‘fight’ or ‘flee’ from perceived harm or attack. This hardwired response is built to keep us safe from predators and is meant to keep the survival of the human species. Why does this ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ matter in sports?


One word, Self-esteem. Which can sometimes translate to an athlete’s ego. Essentially, when the demands of training or competition exceed one’s perceived ability, anxiety is the inevitable outcome. You could say Sporting events are like a war zone for anxiety. As an athlete you are surrounded by hostile opponents, verbally abusive fans, unpredictable circumstances, and on top of all that stress you are physically exerting yourself. Yup war zone! Your brain is taking grenades in the trenches.


Oregon Ducks Softball 2013 | Cheridan Hawkins Lefty Pitcher and Howie a Right Handed Oregon Pitcher

Oregon Ducks Softball 2013 | Cheridan Hawkins Lefty Pitcher and Howie a Right Handed Oregon Pitcher

Is Anxiety Always Bad In Sports?

While anxiety can be exhausting, it can also promote personal growth. During these stressful times you have the ability to persevere, and push back, which will liberate you from your fears and give your ego and confidence a huge boost. You know that feeling after you’re in a tight spot, the stress is on, and you make the big play to save the game. That is a moment that will build your character, and push back the boundaries of anxiety. Not only do you gain confidence in the moment, but also your brain will actually remember the feeling when you are faced with a similar obstacle in the future. Now that’s some tricky sports psychology.


How Can You Minimize Your Anxiety in Sports?

Minimize the unknown and you will minimize your anxiety. Sports Anxiety is seen most often when an athlete is faced with a situation that has an unpredictable outcome. Now, not all instances of the unknown or unpredictable can be eliminated, however we can minimize the unknown. How? Prepare athletes for probable situations. Every sport statistically has situations that will occur during a sport more often than not. These situations are trends in the sport.


Common trends by sport:

Softball and Baseball:

  • A Bunt
  • Double Play
  • Fly Ball Between Positions
  • Pop-Ups
  • Defending Against First & Third Situations



  • Rebounding
  • The Tip Off
  • Free Throw
  • Defending Against A Good Shooter
  • Shooting a 3pt.



  • Defending Against Good Short Passing
  • Defending Against a Long Passing QB
  • Overcoming a Big Defensive Player
  • Defense for the Wide Running Game


 Sports Anxiety: How Do You Minimize the Unknown?

It might sound impossible at first, because the unknown is..well unknown. However, if you take the common situational trends for your sports and break them down, walk through the situation, and practice it. You will feel more familiar and comfortable when you it happens during game play. Why? Because it’s just like studying for a test, you don’t know what will be on the test exactly, but you know what to study so you are prepared. Sports Psychology for Anxiety is no different; you must memorize and engrave that situation in your mind until it’s second nature in the heat of the moment. This is why fundamentals in sports are so important. You are actually training your brain to react and pull from it’s subconscious in those stressful situations. Once you have trained your body and mind for the unknown you will perform in your sport without hesitation or doubt and it will show! You will make the big plays.

Here comes the third pitch…Sam wings with everything he has…you hear the ball crack off the bat, SMACK! He Scores his runners with a double. Why? During practice Sam’s coach asked him to visualize bases loaded when he was hitting in practice. Sam knew he could hit the ball, and he did.




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A little more about Natasha Hawkins...

Experience: Division 1 Fastpitch Softball player at San Jose State. Degree: B.S in Marketing and Advertising Certifications: Certified Level 1 CrossFit Trainer Interests: She loves the way the brain works and how personalities and attitude can create a warrior of an athlete that will always persevere and make success for themselves. While she is not a certified nutritionist she studies and practices the Paleo diet and Zone eating. Quirk: I am an avid archer and hunter. Yup, it's true. I have shot archery since I could walk, and hunted with my Dad since I was born. I also have a sister (Cheridan Hawkins) who is a stud pitcher for the Oregon Ducks Softball Team and is on the Junior Olympic Team. My youngest sister Charli Hawkins trains with me at CrossFit and is also a catcher on the 12U California Grapettes. Follow Natasha on Twitter: @NatashaBHawkins

  • Bailey James

    Another great post. It’s difficult to teach young athletes how to control and channel their anxiety but you give some great tips on just that. I especially like the idea of practicing those stressful situations as much as possible so they can experience success in practice which can translate to success in game time situations.
    Bailey James

  • Tegan Mansanares

    Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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