Managing Internal and External Pressures

It's important to look at some of the mental and emotional causes of panic and anxiety because they are inevitably going to hurt our performances as athletes.  There are two main categories that cause anxiety: Internal and external pressures.  Internal pressures are the pressures that an athlete puts on themselves.  These are self imposed and often correlate to personality.  An athlete who is overly effected by internal pressures tends to be intense, perfectionistic or typically hard on themselves (or others).  Internal pressures  carry high expectations for performances (not always realistic).  They are often based in a fear of failure and a fear of disappointing others.  These pressures fuel the negative (sticky) thoughts that plague competitors.  They sound like: I can't lose again, If I don't qualify I'm a failure, I'll be so embarrassed if I don't make the cut.

External pressures come from external sources - things outside of our control.  These pressures come in the form of messages from coaches, parents and teammates.  Often they are well meaning comments, but sometimes things are said that tend to feed the athlete's self doubt and increase self-defeating thoughts.  "You'll get them this time" - can equate to "But what if I don't?' or "You just have to make top 10" can feel daunting if the athlete is ranked in the lower half.

Another external pressure is money.  The cost of being an athlete or supporting one gets daunting when gas, hotels, gear, coaching and food is added up.  It's hard to find a parent or a spouse who hasn't done the financial tally sheet of money in and performance out at some point.  We don't tend to focus on this when we are feeling successful, but it's hard to not to have fleeting thoughts while enduring a slump or lengthy plateau.

Finally, a focus on outcomes is a sure sign an athlete is reacting to external pressures.  Outcome focusing is dangerous thinking because it emphasizes variables that are outside of an athlete's control: what place they finish, who wins the game, what heat the are in, who else shows up to race all increase anxiety.  Staying present and maintaining a focus on performances within their control is a key strategy to manage negative thoughts.