Red Bull Athlete and Olympian Nikita Ducarroz often gets asked about how to deal with nerves at competitions, especially competition on the world’s biggest stage! It’s pretty rare to find anyone competing with zero anxiety, even the top guys! Nikita explains that “the anxiety is generally good. It means we care. It means we are passionate, competitive, and taking risks. I’ve been taught that without a certain level of nerves and adrenaline, it would be pretty hard to get into the zone and be hyped enough to compete. So why don’t we work to understand that anxiety and work with it, rather than fear it?”
To better cope with our anxieties, here are 5 tips to help you during competition day with Nikita Ducarroz.
(Disclaimer, these are tips solely based on Nikita’s personal experience with nerves at competitions and things that have helped her. She is not a psychologist or mental health professional of any kind. For professional help, please reach out to someone qualified!)
#1- Don’t fight it!
I think my biggest enemy has been letting the nerves of competition take over, trying to fight them, and in turn, making it all even worse. I’ve found that by accepting that it’s there, that it’s normal, and that it’s okay, I give it less power over me. It’s okay to feel those nerves, and you can switch it around so that it actually becomes an advantage instead of a disadvantage.
Learning some breathing techniques to use at events can be super helpful. Both when you’re waiting for your turn to drop in, and also during your run. A couple of different techniques I’ve been taught are “Box Breathing” (used by the Navy Seals), “Belly Breathing” (more for a time when you can lay down, pre-event), and my current personal favorite, deep breathing combined with “Progressive Muscle Relaxation”. I prefer this last one because especially at competitions, it helps to connect your body with what you are feeling, wake up the muscles, and ease that “jelly leg” sensation one might feel along with nerves.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like music, and we all know how different songs can put us into different moods. This seems like common sense but I think sometimes we can underestimate how much putting some headphones on and just blasting your favorite song can help. Whether it’s pre-competition during all that “hurry up and wait” time we tend to have, or during, I find it extremely helpful to block out everything that’s going on around me and just enjoy some good music.
#4- Positive Self-Talk
This can be geared toward any situation really, whether it’s before the event, during a specific trick or run, etc. Picking phrases and keywords that you can repeat over and over sometimes feels like magic. When I am having a hard time sending something sort of scary, I will just keep repeating a few things to myself as I’m already riding. To bring myself to attention, to remind myself I can do it, and to give myself a little motivation to “not think, just do”. Everyone will have different words and phrases that work for them.
#5- Have FUN
Of course, we all want to have fun at events, but sometimes it’s easy to forget when the nerves start hitting and the pressure is on. Think about it though, it’s a lot easier to ride and flow when you feel happy and are having fun. Try to treat things like a fun session with friends at your favorite park. Sure, there are many other factors at competitions. Schedule changes, unfamiliar parks, short practices with way too many other riders … BUT, just that little bit of mindset shift can help me a lot. Enjoying being there, enjoying riding, and enjoying being with friends! When I can keep a smile on my face during stressful practices, I find it much easier to make things happen and hit all my goals.