Forget foul shots and penalty kicks. Sometimes, the most nerve-wracking part of any sport happens before the game even begins. “I tell athletes to embrace pre-game jitters as a sign they are prepared and ready,” says Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist and founder of Peak Performance Sports in Orlando, Florida. “Most of the time, jitters are helpful to athletes, but they can turn into performance anxiety when athletes worry too much about how they feel before competition.” Channeling your energy is simple: First, do some breathing. “If your heart is racing, you’re not breathing correctly,” warns Dr. Michael Fraser, a clinical psychologist and chief of staff at Behavioral Associates in New York City. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds and out through your mouth for four seconds. Repeat until you feel calm. “This way, your heart is at a controlled rate and it’ll be ready for physical activity.” You can also take some time for yourself: “Some athletes like to go for a light jog, listen to music, joke around with teammates or imagine the game,” points out Dr. John F Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist and author the Mental Performance Index. When you think of the game, be sure to visualize a positive outcome. And, right before the clock starts, remind yourself that you worked hard to be here and challenge yourself to prove what you can do.
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