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Why am I underperforming in my sport?

Updated: May 28

Athlete and sports anxiety

Tuning forks being played over a caucasian blonde lady who is laying down.
Tuning forks used in a sound therapy session to evoke calming brain states.

Underperforming in sports is common for both the amateur and professional and can stem from a variety of factors, both physical and psychological. Psychological factors include performance anxiety, lack of confidence and mental fatigue. But, other external pressures such as high expectations from your coaches, teammates, your family or from yourself can add to stress, leading to an increase in performance anxiety and a decrease in performance. It can be frustrating. And, the more pressure you put on yourself, the more likely you are to underperform. Let’s learn more about this and what you can do about it.

Sports performance anxiety

Sports performance anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that occurs before or during sports competitions. This type of anxiety is often triggered by the pressure to succeed, fear of failure, and high expectations from yourself or others. There is nothing more frustrating than being in a match and knowing you are not performing at your best because of crippling anxiety. 

Recently, I wrote about a personal experience I had on the tennis court whereby I had a surge of adrenaline that I could not control which affected my ability to play, you can read about it here. Today we will explore how anxiety specifically affects sports performance and how sound therapy and other mindfulness techniques can help you perform optimally.  

Effects of anxiety on sports performance

Physically, sports performance anxiety can cause muscle tension, fatigue, and decreased coordination. Mentally, it can lead to poor decision-making (been there!), lack of focus, and reduced confidence. These effects can create a negative feedback loop, where anxiety leads to poor performance, which in turn increases the anxiety.

Sports anxiety symptoms

Sports anxiety can manifest through various symptoms, including:

Physical: increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and nausea.

Emotional: feelings of dread, fear, and panic.

Cognitive: difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, and overthinking.

Behavioural: avoidance of competition, decreased performance, and reluctance to engage in training or practice.

You are not alone.

Famous athletes with performance anxiety

Sports performance anxiety is not confined to the amateur wanna-be athlete, even the most accomplished athletes have experienced performance anxiety. Tennis legend Serena Williams has spoken openly about her struggles with nerves before big matches. AFL GWS Giants player Nick Haynes shared an interview with sports reporter David Mark for ABC about experiencing panic attacks on the field. English cricketer Ben Stokes, in his documentary, opened up on his battle with anxiety and how he dealt with panic attacks. He also revealed he was on anxiety medications.

Sports anxiety medication

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage your sports anxiety. These may help reduce the physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat and trembling, but there are many other natural remedies that are more sustainable over the long term. Things such as therapy and lifestyle changes, meditation, relaxation techniques and visualisation.

How to handle performance anxiety as an athlete?

Handling performance anxiety as an athlete involves a multifaceted approach that combines mental, physical, and emotional strategies. Developing a pre-performance routine can help you create a sense of control and predictability. For me, I might bounce the tennis ball three times before serving when playing tennis, or I might practice breathing in certain patterns of three seconds in, one second out to reduce anxiety. Other techniques such as humming, listening to sounds in the environment, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualisation can also calm your mind and body and bring you back to the present moment. 

What is the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety?

You may have heard of the 3-3-3 rule, which helps to resolve anxiety in the moment, it involves identifying three things you can see, naming three sounds you can hear, and moving three parts of your body. In the context of sports anxiety, this technique can be particularly effective for when you are feeling overwhelmed or nervous before or during a competition. This technique allows you to break the cycle of anxious thoughts, regain focus and composure and help to enhance your performance and reduce the impact of anxiety on your game​ (T&L Support for A-Level)​​.

How to overcome sports anxiety?

The ideal approach to overcoming sports anxiety would be to get rid of it completely such that you no longer even get it during a game. But how to do this? You need to work on your resiliency through specifically training yourself so that your body is ready to perform when under pressure. This means actually, train yourself to a point whereby you can thrive under the pressure. You can do this by mimicking in your training the same high levels of stress that exist in a sports performance and re-wiring your brain to remain calm instead of panicking. This way when in a performance your body will have been there before and remember a new way to cope with the situation.

Create neural pathways to defeat sports performance anxiety with sound therapy 

Sound therapy techniques, such as listening to overtone instruments, can influence your brainwave activity, leveraging your brain's ability to adapt and re-organise itself through neuroplasticity, to promote relaxation and reduce sports anxiety. Specific sound frequencies can help synchronise your brainwaves, leading to increased alpha wave activity, which is associated with a calm, focused state of mind​​. By regularly incorporating sound therapy into your training routine and combining stressful activities with soothing sounds, you can re-train your brain to respond to the stress more effectively, building new neural pathways that support improved emotional regulation and performance under pressure​.

Sound therapy can also help balance your autonomic nervous system, promoting a state of calm that is conducive to peak performance  The more you train your body with sound therapy the more it develops resiliency and an ongoing state of calm both on and off the field. 

Practical applications of sound therapy to enhance your sports performance

1. Pre-game prep

Use sound therapy to prepare mentally and emotionally for competition, listen to sounds in the alpha and low beta range to help you achieve a state of relaxed alertness (no it's not a paradox), improving focus and reducing anxiety.

2. In-game performance

While it may not always be practical to use sound therapy in the form of singing bowls or gongs during actual competition, you can use techniques like rhythmic breathing or tapping, silent visualisation exercises and accompany them with internal rhythmic patterns that help you maintain focus and calmness.

3. Post-game recovery

Incorporate sound baths post-game to facilitate quicker recovery. A sound bath or a one-on-one personalised sound therapy session can help to return your heightened post-match stress levels back to baseline levels, and can aid in reducing muscle tension and enhance mental clarity. Sound baths post-game can also assist in reflection on the game, so you can look back over the game you just played to help identify areas to work on or identify what worked well.

4. Daily training regimen

Integrate sound therapy into your daily training routine, such as listening to specific sound meditation tracks during different phases of your training to specifically energise for intense workouts or calm for your cool-down and rest periods. Your brain is akin to a muscle and your ability to not react in the face of a stressful situation can be trained with practice, thus over time by continually integrating sound therapy into your life you will build a bigger muscle, per se, to remain calm under stress.

Sports performance anxiety can be debilitating and crushing to your self-esteem. Sound therapy offers a versatile and scientifically-backed approach to enhancing your sports performance. By influencing brainwave activity, sound therapy can help you improve focus, reduce stress, boost your motivation, find clarity and enhance your recovery. 

As the understanding of the mind-body connection in sports performance continues to grow, sound therapy stands out as a valuable and emerging tool for you as an athlete to maximise your sports performance potential and get the winning edge over your competitors. Strategic use of sound therapy can play a crucial role in helping you tor reach the athletic excellence you have always desired.

To book a private or team sound therapy session, email us or book here.


This article was written by Nicole Sultana, she holds a B. App. Science in Sports Science/Human Movement, and is a Certified Therapeutic Sound Practitioner. She is the founder of Sound Consciousness, a company who provides wellbeing strategies and therapeutic sound practices to help you reach peak levels of performance in your life whether you are an athlete or someone who wants to achieve more out of your daily life. 

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