Dealing with nerves, anxiety and pressure are challenges any high-performing athlete has to deal with. As human beings, we have inbuilt emotional responses to uncertainty and no doubt, at some stage, you’ve had nerves or anxiety get the better of you. For some people, this is an all too regular occurrence.
Personally, I’ve written about the ‘Night Before My Debut At Lord’s’ and how sleep escaped me because of the anxiety of making a debut. Since my professional cricket career ended, I’ve been determined to understand what separates the best performers, from those that aren’t as consistent (like myself), and have learned so much. The most intriguing element in this, for me, is the power of the mind, and therefore, human potential. In order to learn and up-skill in certain areas, I have read, listened to audiobooks and podcasts, watched TED talks and other educational videos, and most importantly, talked to those far more qualified and knowledgeable.
In Episode 8 of Under The Lid with Scolls, Buck & Burkey, we invited Peter Clarke to join us. Pete is a sports psychologist who works with Cricket Australia – from the junior pathway to national sides – and during our hour long conversation, we (former Australian Test Opener Chris Rogers and I) asked Pete a variety of questions dealing with nerves, anxiety and pressure.
This article is a summary of some of the things that Clarke shared with us in part one of this three part series.
To listen to the conversation on your preferred listening device, click here: APPLE PODCASTS SPOTIFY GOOGLE PODCASTS
If you went to the gym once, would you expect to put 10kgs of muscle on straight away? … Of course you wouldn’t!
Yet Clarke said that some people expect to understand and train their mind with one special strategy or technique…which isn’t possible. There is no ‘silver bullet’ that is going to make you mentally the best you can be. It’s far more broad than that. It’s a holistic process that you have to work on, day after day, to see improvement.
Clarke also started by saying not everything is going to make sense for each person. What’s important is you take the information and apply it, to see if it resonates with you. If it doesn’t work for you, keep searching for what does.
What do Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and LeBron James have in common?
Well, according to Clarke, they have all gone through similar mental and emotional battles, much like I was going through the night before my debut at Lord’s. Clarke said the first thing he does when coaching an athlete on this topic, is to normalise the experience. As aspiring athletes, we think the players on TV don’t feel the same way we do, and this makes us think there is something ‘wrong’ with us! However, it’s ok to feel anxious or nervous! It’s actually incredibly normal (I wish I knew this as I tossed and turned in the early hours of the morning before my debut).
Feeling nervous or anxious is a default human response. As a default mechanism, the human brain strives to look for some sort of control or predictability. Therefore, when there is a level of uncertainty paired with a level of importance on the result, there’s a strong possibility of the presence of anxiety. The night before a game is a prime example of when we have no control of the outcome, hence why we can feel anxious. With thoughts about the opposition, the conditions, your statistics or place in the side, who’s going to be watching, what could go wrong, plus thousands of other things, it can be extremely hard to stay calm and in control the night before a game.
To deal with nerves, Clark gave an example of what he tells his athletes…
“Hey mate. It’s ok to feel anxious or nervous. This is a very normal, natural response.”
According to Clarke, by just telling the athlete it’s normal to experience these feelings, and they aren’t strange or different, it often helps them feel more calm.
NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT
Feeling nervous is completely normal and you CAN perform well when you’re nervous! It is unrealistic to think you have to feel perfectly calm and confident to perform well. Clarke told us it’s the actions that are most important, not how you’re feeling.
Clarke explained, that as humans, our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us are defined by the ‘lens’ through which we see. Outside of that, we have a dynamic process around how we interact with our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. We’re always thinking, feeling and acting in a certain way … so it’s important to understand your own mind and think about how you influence the process.
How do you start to influence your thinking? How do you manage your emotions and behaviours?…something which Clarke said is what you want to lean on the most.