Dealing with pre-game jitters

by Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau | January 6, 2015

Laurentian XCountry

Learning how to deal with your pre-game jitters is an important part of training as a competitive athlete. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Whether you are standing at the start line of a race or about to step onto the ice before a big game, almost every competitive athlete knows what it feels like to get those pre-game jitters.

As you mentally rehearse what is to come, your heart is racing, you are sweating, and your stomach is in knots. While many of these physical signs might make you fear that you are not in the best state to compete, in reality, these are often indicators your body is ready.

Fight or flight, a concept stemming from understanding human survival comes into play. When the stakes are at their highest, the possibility of failure becomes much more meaningful and can drive fear in even the strongest and most confident athletes. Triggered by this fear, adrenaline now fuels your body allowing you to “fight” or “compete” with greater intensity.

If these signs are our body’s natural reactions to competition, why then, do they so often lead to “choking” or sub-par performances? The answer is simple: interpretation.

If the early physical changes are thought to be signs of weakness or cause us to doubt our ability to perform, these negative feelings will grow stronger, eventually leading to anxiety. In turn, our focus becomes narrow and muscle tension increases to the point where performing even the most rehearsed and automatic skill can become very challenging.

From a different standpoint, when interpreted in a positive way, these early signs can help us get motivated, gain confidence in our body’s ability to perform and provide added intensity during warm-up and competition.

When discussing this concept with athletes, their first reaction is almost always, “Sure, it’s easier said than done.” While, this may be true, it does not mean it can’t be done.

Being aware of how we are feeling physically and mentally before a game is the first step. If we can be aware of the early signs of nervousness, we can control them through the use of various strategies. These can include relaxation breathing, going for a walk or a jog, practicing yoga or meditation, listening to comforting music, being with teammates, using self-talk, or focusing on pre-performance routines.

What is most important is finding a strategy that works for you by assessing how you are feeling before and after implementing these different techniques. Here are a few ways in which some of Sudbury’s top athletes overcome their pre-game jitters:

“Before my races I calm myself by focusing on a few key words,” said Michelle Kennedy, a member of the Laurentian Voyageurs cross-country running team. “I repeat in my head, and sometimes out loud, ‘fast, fierce, limitless.’ These words help me remember what my goals are and distract me from weather conditions, and the other athletes around me.”

“We always keep the same pre-game routine,” said Tracy Horgan, skip of a competitive curling team. “This involves a pre-game stretch and a pre-game journal. When we journal we discuss things like what our goals are for the game, strategy for the ends, how everyone is feeling and anything we know about our competition. It helps us to play in the present and not look to the future of what the current game might mean to us.

Nicole Dubuc-Charbonnea

Nicole Dubuc-Charbonnea

“Best of all is talking to teammates and feeding off of their confidence and positivity,” she added. “A cohesive and supportive team is a fantastic resource for calming jitters.”


Nicole Dubuc-Charbonneau is a mental performance consultant with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association and works with a number of teams and athletes in the Greater Sudbury area.


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