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Using Nervousness to Boost Performance

It’s been discussed at length in this blog that many athletes use controlled anger as a motivator, but much of the time it is subconscious, or for pre-competition use. Many athletes and sport psychologists prefer to look on their successful formula not as turning fear to anger to dispassionate response but from nervousness to challenge to performance. (Anxiety is another popular word that comes up, but it may be a moot point.)

Those who fail do so because they can’t translate normal anxiety into positive performance, said Andrew Lovy. They translate anxiety into fear, which leads to panic, which kicks in too much adrenaline and all of a sudden they’re shooting off-target.

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Pressure is coming down the last hole at tour school, knowing you have to make par to make the cut, said PGA tour player Trevor Dodds. I turned it into a challenge and it has made the world of difference because I pulled off a shot that is really, really difficult by turning a threat into a challenge.

Ayoob believes that athletes in crisis points of a match use a method similar to the one he teaches police. They don’t fear physical danger, but maybe it’s fear of failure, he said. They learn to turn it into positive response. Remember Jim Brown’s football quote: Fear is a gift from God, for survival.

Former track coach Brooks Johnson believes the best athletes learn to change fear and other negative emotions into potent forces. Some people are able to take the negative feelings they have and convert them into energy, he said. It creates this sort of electricity and they take it and focus it on their event. Bill Russell got so nervous before [NBA] games, he’d lose his lunch [throw up], then he’d go out and turn that nervousness into a marvelous performance. It’s yin and yang, an awesome pressure. All the great ones have the ability to do this. You cannot get to a certain level without this mentality. Everybody at that level is similar. Yes, it’s on the border of being unhealthy, but it’s required as much as their skills and training.

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