Updated: Apr 2, 2019
You would think that for someone who makes a living of making and presenting videos, “performance anxiety” is not the first thing that comes to mind. It's important to understand that performance anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes.
My form of performance anxiety is linked to learning in a group environment or performing something I don't feel I have mastered enough. Coaching, presenting or performing something I feel I have learned sufficiently, is no problem whatsoever: in fact, I love it. I am far from being shy and I have no issues speaking or presenting in public about something I am passionate about.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum is the crippling feeling or learning to do something in a group environment when I'm still on the "learning curve". If I’m practicing on my own, I'll have no problem playing the fool and making as many mistakes as I need to.. but as soon as someone else comes into the picture, my performance ability cripples to level zero.
In an environment where it's all fun and games, I'm happy to embrace my inability and make it part of the fun: but if things get serious - the performance anxiety becomes enough to call it quits.
Photography by Emauel Berthe
IT'S NOT JUST YOU
This had me think of a lot of athletes (or just students in general!) dealing with their confidence, and how it can be misunderstood and handled incorrectly. For people that are naturally comfortable with performing, in any way, it seems easy enough to just say “just believe in yourself” and “think positive” or to “imagine the judges in their underwear”..
Frankly when performance anxiety clicks in, the only thing you can think of is trying to get your body to co-operate and just RESPOND TO YOUR BRAIN’S INSTRUCTIONS!!
Performance Anxiety differs from mental blocks because it’s not fixed on a particular skill and it can come and go as it pleases, and it’s a very conscious mental state.
It kicks in differently from person to person and in different circumstances. Not just in competition but in showcases, every day during cheer training, 1-2-1 sessions with coaches or even just having parents watching!
When performance anxiety kicks in, the body enters “fight or flight” mode and the person will find their mind racing and their body reacting in a way they can’t control:
I can’t do this
What if I fail and look silly
I can’t keep up
I’m the worst person in the room
Why am I even doing this
Shaking, inability to have body control
Palms become sweaty
Feeling nauseous or dizzy
Throat is drying up
Sadly, the more corrections and the more attention this person gets, it makes matters worse. Coaches and teammates may want to help, but the words of encouragement make sense to the head, but the body is unable to cooperate. There is a disconnect.
Yet in a 1-2-1 private or when practicing at home, they may be perfectly fine!
YOU CAN BEAT THIS
Should an athlete with performance anxiety still be in your cheer team? Yes, but they might need more time before they can be pushed to the same level of their athletic ability. No matter how much encouragement, positive feedback and 1-2-1 sessions they have, the situation is not getting any better. So they quit, they fall behind or they’re just stuck in the back of the formation.
What’s the best way to prevent this and help someone with performance anxiety? Give them confidence. Not false “you can do it!!” Confidence, but actual, tangible confidence. They need to feel like they can keep up and do a good job, at their level.
Here are 5 great ways to help deal with and eventually conquer performance anxiety:
Certificates and official skill checks to certify their ability to perform skill X or Y. For people with performance anxiety this is a huge comfort: if they have an official piece of paper to say they can do it, then it must be true. Watch them perform skills they have certified in and skills they can “do” in private but have not been made official: there’s a HUGE difference!
Some athletes have something stopping them from performing or progressing and they don’t know why. In fact, their body knows: they’re not physically prepared for it. Asking an athlete to learn a back handspring if they cannot comfortable hold an unassisted handstand is asking someone to scuba-dive if they don’t know how to swim. For those that have performance anxiety, they are just better at listening to their bodies and being cautious. They’re just not always conscious of it. Thorough conditioning and skill-specific drills will help get their body and mind break through to the next level.
The power of sisterhood: creating meaningful bonds of positivity, motivation and mentorship!
Mentoring up and mentoring down. They are both mentee to a senior athlete or coach, and mentor to someone more junior. The mentor will help them with guidance, reassurance and give them more 1-2-1 time with someone they can trust and build confidence. On the other hand, having to be a role model to someone younger will give them a sense of responsibility and courage. Establishing a “3-tier” little / big sister or brother system between athletes of same or different teams is a very effective way to build confidence and a strong support system within the program without always having to rely on coaches and parents.
4. RE-ASSESS TEAM LEVEL
Even though they might be able to perform Level 4 skills in private sessions, when in a group context and around other people they might only be able to handle Level 3 skills with absolute confidence. Asking an athlete to step down a level, if handled incorrectly, can also make things worse: if you’re feeling like you’re being downgraded, it just reconfirms the worst of your fears.
Approaching the matter objectively and in a helpful way so they understand that you’re doing this for THEM, not for “the benefit of the team”.
HOW TO BLAST SOMEONE’S CONFIDENCE: “For the benefit of the team, we feel that you would be more appropriate at Level 3 until you can build your Level 4 skills”
HOW TO BOOST SOMEONE’S CONFIDENCE: “As your coach, I know you’re perfectly capable of performing Level 4 skills. The only thing standing in your way is your confidence and the ability in believing in your own abilities. I would like you to spend a season at Level 3 to work on your confidence and performance at this level, so that you can fully embrace Level 4 when you are ready for it. We don’t want you to have to think about the skill, but rather how great your performance is going to be”.
5. PERFORM MORE & HAVE SOME FUN!!
The one advantage that performance cheer, high school or Varsity cheerleading has over all-star cheerleading is the number of opportunities to get used to performing in front of an audience. It’s all well and good to spend 95% of your time training skills and athletic ability, but if athletes don’t have enough time to get comfortable in a performance environment, it could all be lost time! Performing at charity events or on the sidelines, even by doing simple skills and routines can really be a great way to train athletes' confidence and reduce performance anxiety. For those teams that would love to do this but have little time to put choreography together, we have created the CHEER PRO Choreography series for this exact purpose. Sometimes it’s just fun to just perform something easy to ENJOY it, and not because a championship is at stake!
Sometimes (like Christmas) it's just fun to shake some pompoms and have a laugh!
If you need a little more help, our INTENSITY Cheer Conditioning and our new #BodyBeforeSkill workouts on CheerConditioning.Academy include plenty of tutorials and workouts to help understand and fix these issues in more depth, including our brand new HANDSTAND WORKOUT coming soon..
If you’re overcoming anything like we have, feel free to share your story and remember to tag @CheerConditioning.Academy on your instagram videos if you would like some personalised tips and support! For more #BodyBeforeSkill tips and ideas, please follow me on Instagram @JessicaZ00
Free for CheerConditioningAcademy members!
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