Published January 04, 2010 04:46
Life is full of stressors - several things bring pressure and stress into our lives.
For an athlete, things like injury, handling those important points in a match, focus and concentration and split second decision-making are all examples of on-court stressors. International travel, the media, fans, family, loneliness and managing fame are examples of common of-court stressors.
With so many challenges to face, it is no surprise that many athletes want to learn more about RELAXATION techniques.
"Flight and Fright"… Chuang, Chia-jung
An Ancient Response to a Modern Situation
In ancient times, life consisted of many real dangers and threats.
Today, thankfully, we no longer need to worry about being eaten by a Saber Tooth Tiger when we go for a walk.
But, our bodies and our physiological response to stress have not changed. When stress or a perceived threat is present, our body still responds as if the tiger is still chasing us, and prepares us to fight or flee from the tiger. Body systems are alerted and react in ways designed to save our lives; this is called the "stress response" (see chart below).
If uncontrolled, this stress response has a profound and often negative effect on our health, our thought processes and on athletic performance.
The good news is, it can be modified by the use of relaxation techniques.
"All of us get knocked down, but it's resiliency that really matters. All of us do well when things are going well, but the thing that distinguishes athletes is the ability to do well in times of great stress, urgency and pressure." Roger Staubach, former Champion footballer
Physiological (Body) Response to Stress
Tight and rigid, increased blood supply to muscles
Cardiovascular (Heart and Lungs)
Rapid pulse / Rapid, shallow breathing / High blood pressure / Panicked breathing
Digestive Tract (Stomach)
Diarrhea / Constipation / Upset or acid stomach
Increased risk of illness and injury
Excess sweating / Acne / Eczema / Hair loss
Lack of focus and concentration / Inability to think clearly / Increase negative thoughts / Lack of motivation / Difficulty sleeping
Decreased control / Fear and anxiety / Mood changes / Irritability
- Exposure to stressors in life is inevitable and to a large extent unavoidable.
- Facilitating a positive response to stress and an ability to relax when in stressful situations can enhance performance and reduce the risk of illness and injury.
Using relaxation techniques can help you achieve this.
Winning relaxation techniques
The Relaxed Athlete
- Is clear headed and alert.
- Is in a state of controlled calmness and awareness.
- Has a high level of concentration and focus.
- Makes creative choices, selects correctly and executes shots well (hits more winners).
- Has a high level of confidence.
- Remains calm in a crisis (match points, break points down).
- Conserves energy (lasts the distance better in long matches).
- Has fun on the court and enjoys the competitive challenge!
- Does this describe YOU?
Relax and Perform at your Peak
- Is an extremely powerful relaxation technique.
- Focus on slow, regular, deep breathing - it helps to calm you down.
- Exhale as you hit the ball.
- Off the court, practice slow controlled breathing- inhale through your nose, feel your abdomen and lower ribs expand, then exhale continuously through your mouth.
- If you feel your muscles tightening, contract then release them.
- Let your lower jaw drop, and open your mouth wide to facilitate facial relaxation.
- Let your shoulders drop, and arms dangle. Shake them to decrease excess tension.
- Practice this "Progressive Relaxation" off the court: lie down in a comfortable place. Focus on progressively tightening, then releasing all major muscle groups in your body. Work progressively from top to toe. Finish by letting your whole body go limp and heavy.
- Notice how your breathing is slower and calmer than before.
- Regular massage relieves muscle tension and aids physical and mental recovery.
- Use imagery with relaxation- practice playing match point down successfully or give yourself a mini holiday by imagining yourself away in your favorite peaceful place.
- Take your time. Don't rush.
- On what you can control, like your tennis, your attitude, your breathing.
- Not on what you cannot control, like the crowd, the line calls, the wind, your opponent.
Play in the Now
- Think about the process - this point, this shot. LET GO of the outcome.
Talk about it
- Unload unnecessary fears and concerns.
- Talk to a trusted friend.
- Enjoy "time out" off the court to relax, rest and recover.
- Listen to music, read, have a bath, stretch, do Yoga, learn to meditate, pray, take up a hobby that you like, spend time with friends and family, laugh, walk the dog, take the time to smell the flowers.
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