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Facing Negative Feelings Before Games? Here's Help

What negative feelings are normal when you’re about to go play? The answer is a little tricky. 'Normal' has to do with the situation you're in and what you've decided is ‘okay’ to feel.

Your situation is a 1,000 piece puzzle with a few standouts that affect your emotions. One of the biggest pieces is what's at stake. If the stakes are very high - meaning there's a lot to lose or gain - you may feel anxious, worried, afraid, exhilarated, or a combination of those things.

Should you believe you’re underprepared to perform the way you’d like, those feelings might be felt more intensely and mix with frustration, embarrassment, regret, or anger. If that sounds like a lot to feel at one time, it is. That’s not good or bad; you’re just complex.

How you feel physically (e.g. fatigued, fresh, sick) is a familiar piece of your situational puzzle. When you feel less than your best, it’s normal to worry about your game play. It’s common to hyper-focus on the way you’re feeling and assume it means the worst for you.

One final piece you’ll learn about has to do with the way you view your competition. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, you will face opponents perfectly matched to or above your skill level. How tough you perceive the competition to be (and how well you believe you can play up to it) has an influence on your feelings.

If you believe any of the emotions you’re experiencing are truly detrimental to performance or you think 'I shouldn't feel this way,' you're going to have an even harder time. Emotions are informational. They tell you how you generally feel about something, which is meant to help you make decisions. As an example, maybe you feel shame for being underprepared:

  • You know feeling this way is normal, when you’re not prepped to your standards

  • You know you don’t like that feeling, you don’t like being underprepared, and what a lack of preparation means for you

An emotion doesn’t actually influence the outcome of a game, your decisions do. With all the information an emotion gives you, you’ve got more reason to go fix underpreparedness. That doesn’t, however, help you in the moment. To continue with the example:

  • At game time, you need to focus on what you’re capable of doing

  • Find things you can do to effect positive change in the game and support your team

  • Every time you focus on how crummy you feel or how poorly you’ve prepped, simply return your focus to what will help you be most successful right now

    • You might go through this process many or just a few times. The number of reps isn’t good or bad, it’s just what it is that day

By now, you should feel more empowered to troubleshoot difficult feelings. The word ‘difficult’ was specifically used there, because that’s what the feeling is; it’s not actually negative, just hard for you to deal with at that time. The reason an article like this can be written at all is because other athletes have difficult feelings, too, and they’re normal! When it's difficult to deal with these emotions or you don't exactly know what to do, mental skills coaches exist and we’re always happy to help. Feel free to email me at and ask any questions you'd like!


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