P.V.Sindhu of India lost to Carolina Marin in the finals of the World Badminton championships on the 5th AUGUST 2018. This was Sindhu’s fourth loss in the finals this season and eighth since 2016. When the media pointed to her about this record she was quick to say `I have no final phobia or such fears. Everyone plays to win but sometimes we may not succeed.’
People who tend to analyse these happenings may assume it’s the finals phobia or maybe she is placing undue importance to the finals [event importance] because she wants to win it desperately and as a result she is getting overly anxious and tightening up. Sindhu is a world class player who has gone through the grind and knows about these things and unless we hear from her it is not wise on our part to assume. It can also be that the winner was the better player on that day and deservedly won. The analysis is inconclusive in her case.
It may or may not be overthinking and precompetitive anxiety with Sindhu but it’s the case with many competitive athletes who fall victims to pre-competitive nerves and paralysis by analysis. They think about the outcome- [mostly failure], doubt themselves, and worry about the uncontrollables [competitors, weather etc], what would be the repercussion if they win/lose the contest; they worry about their competence, keep thinking on their strategies, etcetera.
The competitive anxiety as a result of over thinking [mostly negative] could have set in days prior to the day of the competition: but can be highest just before the actual event. Even champions have admitted that they are anxious before competition and know how to cope with it owing to their experience. But the lesser knowns succumb to the threat [flight or fight] and develop psychological as well as physiological symptoms.
I have heard about athletes losing sleep the previous night, some withdraw and become very quiet, some become aggressive as the day of the competition draws close, athletes losing their appetite or indulging in binge eating. Some have the tendency for certain cravings for sweets or fried food etc. It is on the day of the competition athletes can urinate frequently and consume water more than normal. There are shared accounts of athletes who find the need to defecate frequently [loose motions]. Athletes are also known to get restless, fidgety, and irritable due to nervousness before competition.
It is quite natural for the athletes to feel uneasy before the event as the body-mind prepares itself to face the challenge and certain amount of stress is necessary to perform at the optimum- this is called U-stress or useful stress: but too much of it is debilitative to performance. This increase in arousal/activation can be man’s best friend or worst enemy. The nervous energy can be channelled negatively or positively [depending on the individual].
Suggestions for coping up with pre-competitive overthinking
- It is necessary to plan and prepare oneself physically, mentally and skill wise ahead for the competition. What is planned is executed in practice.
- As the preparation continues till the day of the event- the seeds of its intention are already sown. Fill it, shut it, and forget it.
- When doubts, worries and anxieties raise their ugly head it is important to postpone this negative thinking to the moments of the competition. Ask- what is the point in worrying now let me face the worst fears on the day of the event. Hope the why, what, when and the how’s will take of themselves. This is how one can procrastinate on negative thinking.
- Much ahead of the event: you’ll not pressurise yourself with thoughts like- I must win, I shouldn’t lose this opportunity, I can’t lose etcetera
- To ward off negativity keep affirming to the self– I am preparing well and confident of performing well in the upcoming tournament.
- On the night before the day of the competition: dine and sleep early [to get a good night’s sleep] – before dozing off: make yourself comfortable in a chair or lie down on a bed- perform progressive relaxation, relax your whole body, carry out deep breathing, quieten your mind and do some imagery with the next day’s event in mind: emphasizing on proper execution, positive body language, self-confidence, focus and relaxation.
- On the day of the competition: – carry out your usual routines before you leave for the venue. On reaching the venue warm up before your match, stretch, relax, quieten your mind and imagine your positive performance executing all the plans you have in mind. Recall a positive past performance and feel the confidence surging through you.
- The idle time before your event is the period when you get maximum negative thoughts and competitive anxiety: it is the time when you have to divert your mind from the competition temporarily:- You can read a book, chat with you friends on matters not relating to your sport/event, be with positive people, play with crossword puzzles, play with mobile games if it is not distractive to you, listen to music that suits your type, if you feel pressurised at the venue you can move a little out of sight from the venue, visualise a wonderful vacation you had, think of your favourite food, you can open your internet and be with your social media if it’s not disturbing and negative to you, watch the live streaming of a sport- different from yours.
- Before you enter the arena for the start of your match/event: do your routines, take few deep abdominal breaths, talk yourself positively and use some nice encouraging cue words.
- Instead of thinking of the WIN which is going to come later think of the other WIN- which is an acronym for W:what I: Is important N: now
- Remind yourself to be with the process, being in the present, giving your best, playing to the merit, allowing the inner faculties to take over and trusting your instincts, not thinking too much: too ahead and performing hoping for the best.
See and listen to what  Craig Sigl the mental toughness trainer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfIJcTEt9ns
And  Rebecca: Smith- https://completeperformancecoaching.com/2018/03/16/ideal-mindset-big-competition-qa-coach-rebecca/ have to say about overthinking