How nervous do you get on race day? How do you feel in the start area when you see your fellow competitors warming up, the coaches preparing skis and the parents collecting jackets and wishing their kids good luck?
When you’re standing in line for your run, do you feel the butterflies in your stomach? What do you say to yourself to calm your nerves? Do you try to convince yourself that it’s just another ski course and you should treat it like a regular training run? Do you say to yourself don’t think about the results and hope that calms your nerves?
Every athlete experiences a little nervousness on race day. The butterflies, sweaty palms and rapid heart rate mean you care about your sport and want to perform well. Here are Five Tips that will help you race as well as you train.
1) If you let them, your nerves can help you race faster.
They release certain chemicals and hormones in your body that help you to explode out of the starting gate, move forward at every turn and push through to the finish line. Your nerves are not the enemy – so don’t treat them as such. To do your best, you must feel “some” excitement.
2) Let your butterflies work for you.
The next time you feel the butterflies in your stomach, close your eyes and imagine the butterflies aligning themselves to help you conquer the course. Remind yourself that they are there to help you gain a competitive edge on your competition. Use your breathing to help move them into alignment. A “centering breath” is your ally in bringing your nerves into alignment.
3) Train your weakness Race your strengths
Training Tip: Another way to manage your nerves comes with specific focus in practice – the race simulation. Instead of trying to treat your race like a training run, attack the first run in every training course and pretend it’s a race.
In a race, you only have one chance to conquer the course. The best way to race as well as you train is to use the first training run to simulate race day.
Each time you have a new training course, take the time to inspect the course as you would a race course. Spend several minutes at the start to prepare your body for your run. Imagine how you’re going to race the course. Use the PETTLEP imagery method to keep your visualization practice focused and precise.
4) You’ve got tools, use them in training.
Training Tip: Get yourself energized to compete by listening to your race playlist. Radio your coaches for a course report. Strip down to your full speed suit. Ask your coaches or teammates to sporadically throw in a delay (as you could experience in a race). Then, perform your best start and race as fast as you can all the way to the finish.
5) Building confidence requires training too – Here’s how to train for confidence.
At the end of your training day: Write down 1 or 2 things in your “confidence book” that you DID REALLY WELL that day. Be precise: answer who, what, where, when, how? Write enough details in so that you can review your book before key competitions – and – KNOW you did the proper preparation so you are ready. Confidence comes easier when you acknowledge exactly what you accomplished in your preparation.
Race simulation is the best way to bridge the gap between training and racing. Not only will you’re racing improve, but you will find that you are able to exert more effort in training. You’ll be more confident and ready to stand on top of the podium.
With a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Dr. Haley Perlus is an adjunct professor, seminar leader, consultant to national team and Division I athletes, published author of The Ultimate Achievement Journal, The Inside Drive and The Guidebook to Gold Series, as well as appointed an Industry Leader by IHRSA. A former elite athlete, coach and fitness professional, Dr. Haley is an expert at empowering individuals to achieve peak results. Dr. Haley is available for individual and group mental toughness consultations. To find out more about these programs you can visit her website: DrHaleyPerlus.com.
Dr. Stephen Walker is a licensed healthcare practitioner specializing in health and sport psychology and lives in Boulder, Colorado. He is certified by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, National Board of Certified Counselors, and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Registry of Sport Psychologists and the American Psychological Association. He is the director of Health & Sport Performance Associates, and serves as editor-in-chief of Podium Sports Journal, an on-line publication.