Coping With Performance Anxiety In Sports: How To Take Charge Of Your Success


You know that feeling right before a big game or competition. The whirring of butterflies in your stomach, your heart is pounding hard against your chest and you feel like you might get sick.


You might feel this way before a game or competition and it goes away as soon as you start playing. Or the feeling lessens and you push through, playing really well.


For some people, this level of stress doesn’t go away. If you feel anxious about a sporting event for days before the game, or the stress interferes with your gameplay or focus, you could have performance anxiety.


According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, anywhere from 30-60% of athletes can experience performance anxiety.1

Addressing sports performance anxiety is important because it can interfere with your life, and ability to play.


Today we’re discussing performance anxiety in sports and the steps you can take to manage it.

What Is Performance Anxiety?


Performance anxiety in sports occurs when you feel uneasy, nervous, or excessively worried about your sport. These feelings can arise about one aspect of the sport, a particular skill or it can be linked to competition. 


It’s more common than most people think and in recent years has gained some attention as some elite athletes have been open about their experience with performance anxiety and mental health in sports. The world watched this play out with Simone Biles in the Toyko Olympics, sparking a more open conversation about this issue.


Other elite athletes who have been open about their mental health and sports anxiety are:

  • Michael Phelps 
  • Lindsey Vonn
  • Naomi Osaka
  • Mikaela Shiffrin


The good news, these athletes have started the conversation about anxiety in sports. Understanding the symptoms of it can help you identify if you’re experiencing it. 

Symptoms of Sports Performance Anxiety


Sports anxiety might be very easy to recognize for some and for others the symptoms might be subtle or you’re unsure if what you’re feeling is anxiety.


Sports anxiety can manifest with physical and mental symptoms. Most people have a combination of the two.

Physical symptoms include:1,2

  • “Butterflies” in the stomach
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Feeling weak
  • Tense muscles
  • Sweating
  • GI issues like diarrhea or constipation


Mental symptoms include:1,2

  • Negative self-talk
  • Excessive worry or panic
  • Paralyzing fear 
  • Feelings of dread about the sport
  • Intense fear of failure, fear of letting others down
  • Feeling restless or edgy before an upcoming game or competition
  • Troubling focusing or overthinking 


It’s important to note that you can feel these symptoms and it’s not performance anxiety. Some people will experience a healthy level of anxiety that pushes them, gets them through their game or competition and they will thrive. 


When these symptoms become problematic, interfering with your daily life or your sports performance, that’s when it might be cause for concern. 

The Impact Anxiety Has On  Athletes


Performance anxiety is real and sports psychology is on the rise. If you listen to a successful athlete talk about what is critical to their success they always mention their mindset. Performance anxiety has a huge impact on an athlete’s performance and success. 


When it gets out of control it can:

  • Decrease sports performance
  • Create a lack of motivation 
  • The athlete may avoid the sport or lose interest 
  • Cause anxiety in other areas of life


What You Can Do

The good news is that performance anxiety symptoms can be managed and you can get back to enjoying your sport and even thrive in it. 


Build Resilience


Most of us consider ourselves resilient people. The truth is that most adults could work on improving mental and emotional resilience. Young athletes and high school athletes are in their prime to build resilience skills.


One simple way to build resilience is to learn flexible thinking and growth mindset skills. Being flexible allows you to “go with the flow” better and adapt to change. A growth mindset is believing that your abilities can be developed and improved with hard work and dedication. 


Reframing failure is a great way to practice these skills. Using a perceived “failure” as a learning opportunity. Get curious about how you can improve or what you’re learning from this. What practices can you put in place that will help you do better next time? Does this “failure” open the door to new opportunities?


Building resilience increases confidence and is a great start to managing sports performance anxiety. 


Set realistic goals


This might seem obvious but the details of this are extremely important. This is such an important aspect of managing sports performance anxiety that the NFL discusses it on their player’s association website.3

When setting goals, think about a specific skill you want to improve. What’s the smallest goal you can create to improve that skill? Start small with your goals and make sure they are measurable and attainable.  When you complete that goal, celebrate that win. Accomplishing a small goal will boost confidence, especially if your anxiety impacts your performance. Then, build on that and create another goal to improve that skill. Keep building on what you’ve accomplished to make it attainable and build confidence


Explore relaxation techniques


Meditation, visualization, and breathing techniques are all recommended for athletes. Athletes at the elite level talk about using one or more of them to help with relaxation and their mindset. Which of these techniques you use will depend on your preference, personality, and what you connect with. Each of these has been known to work but it’s important to explore each one and see which one works for you. 




Neurofeedback is a brain training technique that can be used to help your brain function at its best and improve overall wellness. Neurofeedback has a lot of benefits that help athletes. Before we go into that, let’s talk a little about what neurofeedback is in case it’s new to you.


Neurofeedback gives you information about your brain’s electrical activity to help you self-correct and self-regulate when your brain shifts in a way that’s unpleasant for you. With NeurOptimal® neurofeedback, the device has sensors connected to your scalp and ears that will detect these unpleasant shifts or turbulence. You will listen to music or watch a movie while the device is analyzing your electrical activity. When turbulence is detected there will be a brief interruption in what you’re listening to.


This interruption is so brief you might not even notice it. But it’s significant enough that your brain will return to the present moment. Neurofeedback teaches your brain self-control and you will start to move in ways that feel better for you. 


Neurofeedback is like physical fitness for your brain and more people are brain training for overall wellness. Neurofeedback – and all of the positive health benefits it has – has been researched for decades. 

Now, let’s talk a little about the benefits athletes see when using neurofeedback. 


Benefits of Neurofeedback For Athletes 


NeurOptimal® neurofeedback is an at home neurofeedback device that has been used by athletes to: 

  • Reduce performance anxiety and fear
  • Increase focus
  • Enhance clarity 
  • Minimize stress
  • Improve sleep


Improving these aspects of your life helps you feel good and boosts confidence so you can gain a new perspective on your performance anxiety.


Brain training with neurofeedback can help:

  • Promote relaxation
  • Enhance cognitive performance 
  • Increase physical resilience after an injury 
  • You become more flexible and resilient 
  • Increase neuroplasticity 


Neurofeedback also increases neuroplasticity – your brain’s ability to adapt to change. Increasing neuroplasticity can help you reach your flow state and peak performance in sports. 


NeurOptimal® has been used by 

  • The Dutch Olympic Rowing Team
  • The Oakland A’s!
  • The Sugar Beets Pro Women’s Cycling Team


Don’t let performance anxiety limit you anymore. Whether you are a young athlete, semi-pro, or professional – NeurOptimal® can help promote relaxation and a healthy lifestyle overall. Becoming more flexible and resilient will help you reach your sports goals.


Want to know more about how you can get started with NeurOptimal®?

Fill out our contact form or call  or call us at 303-222-5118




  1. How Anxiety Can Affect Sports Performance And How To Combat It. 
  2. Nationwide Children’s Hospital 
  3. NFLPA