All of us have felt nervous or anxious before hitting the courts before. Whether it’s at your first major tournament or even before your local open play, you start to feel the nerves creep in and can’t seem to shake them.
Fortunately, this is a completely normal response to all the excitement and stresses that come with participating in a pickleball event; you just need to learn to hone those thoughts and feelings. Here are our top 8 effective ways of dealing with nervous and anxious feelings ahead of a pickleball tournament!
1. Get Enough Sleep
While you might want to be up all night watching pickleball film to get the upper hand on your opponents, you’ll 100% want a good night’s sleep ahead of a tournament. Sleep is one of the most important factors in combatting anxiety and reducing stress, so getting a healthy 6-8 hours of sleep is a must!
According to a study by the University of Arizona, sleep hygiene is a driving factor in one’s ability to sleep and the quality of sleep. There are many factors that contribute to having a healthy sleeping environment, such as:
- Remove all screens from the bedroom. (TVs, computers, phones, etc.)
- Keep your sleeping space quiet, cool, and dark. Cooler rooms tend to induce a higher quality sleep.
- Only use your bedroom for sleeping. Leave all gadgets, video games, internet, and other distractions at the door before going to bed.
- Don’t eat, drink alcohol, or smoke before bed. A glass of water before bed is fine, but you don’t need your body to process unnecessary nutrients or chemicals as it is trying to rest.
2. Create A Warm Up Routine
Anxiety can be an extremely physical sensation, causing you to feel drained of energy and too stiff to move comfortably. This is where having a set routine of warm-up exercises will help your body relax and loosen up.
Going through the motions of your exercise routine can also help ground you more. Not only will your body be more loose and ready to take on the physical strain of the competition, but you’ll also be much more in tune with your body’s movements.
Be sure to check out our guide here on some of our favorite warm-ups that will help decrease stress and help prevent injury!
3. Breathe In. Breathe Out.
After getting some stretches and calisthenics in, it’s a good idea to rest and do some deep breathing. According to a study done by Harvard Medical School, breathing is the perfect way to invoke a relaxation response within your body in order to combat stress.
I know from personal experience that going through a quick 5-minute guided breathing meditation can do wonders for reducing anxiety and grounding yourself. After a few minutes of focusing on your breathing, you’ll be able to better connect with the world around you, allowing you to be more focused during your matches.
Deep breathing techniques are best implemented through routine practice. Even if you can’t commit to doing this in your daily life, in the few days leading up to a tournament, try to get in 2-3 five-minute-long deep breathing sessions. This way, you’ll feel used to the practice going into the tournament, and it will feel more natural in your tournament prep routine.
3. Snacks Are Essential
Take it from the number one pickleball player in the world, Anna Leigh Waters: Snacks are a must for you to have the energy needed to perform at your best! Sometimes when you’re feeling nervous or unwell, you might just need some vital nutrients.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of eating during the day of the pickleball event. You might wake up, eat a light breakfast beforehand, and then forget to eat until after all of your matches are done. Your body needs calories to stay at peak performance, and letting your tank run on empty will leave you prone to injury and wear down your mental strength.
4. You Have Timeouts For A Reason
Use your timeouts! Beyond their inherent value in stopping the game at pivotal moments for a momentum change, they will also be your friend if you aren’t feeling well on court.
If you begin to notice your game start to slip, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and let the nerves take over. Once you begin to feel like this, just call time. This will give you a moment to take a breather, cool down, drink some water, and reset your mind before going into the next point.
6. Stick To Your Strategy
If you have a game plan, stick to it. When you’re flustered, your mind can start to overthink things and feel the need to make drastic changes to your approach. This is a moment where taking that time out will allow your mind to refocus on the plan you have set.
For example, let’s say you notice a weakness in your opponent’s short game, so you and your partner decide to start focusing on slowing it up at the kitchen line and begin targeting them for speed-ups. However, halfway through the match, you send a few shots too deep out of bounds, and your opponent gets a couple of lucky let cords in.
Instead of freaking out and thinking that you must totally switch your play style and start driving balls to the other side of the court, take a moment to collect your thoughts and refocus your mind on your existing game plan. Staying calm and collected while moving through some missed opportunities will help lower your stress levels and improve your odds of future success through trial and error.
It’s also okay to have a moment with your partner where you realize that maybe your strategy isn’t working. If both of you agree that you need to switch things up, create a new game plan, and then stick with it. Setting goals and strategies will help calm your nerves and keep your attention on the actual gameplay instead of your thoughts on what the gameplay should be.
7. Communication Is Key
A big part of executing your game plan and addressing your nerves is to keep communication open with your doubles partner. Let them know if you aren’t feeling okay because chances are they know what you’re experiencing and can help you work through it.
Sometimes, knowing that you have your partner there and they are there for you is all it takes to let go of unwanted stress. You also will feel more confident in yourself if you can have their back too. Play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and you will feel more united and fired up to hit the courts as a team!
8. Focus On The Joy
Let loose and have fun! At the end of the day, pickleball is all about having a good time playing the sport we all love.
Of course, as competitors, we want to win, but that isn’t the only reason we sign up for tournaments. Even if you end up going 0-2 in your first match, as long as you and your partner are locked in for a couple of exciting points or other fun moments, think of that as a success!
Accepting your losses with grace and learning from your failures is all a part of learning the game; any pro will tell you that. How you respond to those losses will shape your perspective and interaction with the game. Keeping a positive mindset through those tough matchups will make you less anxious moving forward.
Now, get out there, give these tips a shot, and play some pickleball!
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