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Back You are here: Home Sports Other Sports Psychology: Don't Panic, Just Breathe
Monday, 12 December 2016 08:49

Sports Psychology: Don't Panic, Just Breathe

Written by  Dr.Kirsten van Heerden

I recently read an article called ‘The #1 Secret Astronauts, Samurai, Navy SEALs, and Psychopaths Can Teach You About Good Decision Making’.

An interesting title I thought.Making good decisions under pressure is the hallmark of all great performers, be it a Navy SEAL or an Olympic athlete, and what allows them to make these good decisions is something called arousal control. In other words the secret is: don’t panic!

How many times have you got out the pool or off the pitch and said ‘Why on earth did I do that?’ Things you never normally do, but under pressure you find yourself doing.This is panic at work. Panic underpins many bad decisions.

Being able to stay relaxed and calm in the midst of performance pressure is a critical skill for all athletes to learn. Here’s how to think about it: your brain is like an elephant and its rider…

The elephant is the emotional, feeling part of your brain (powerful but simple) and the rider the thinking part of your brain (smart but easily overpowered). Mostly our rider is in control and can direct the elephant (our thinking brain directs our emotions). But what happens if the elephant panics? If any of you have seen an elephant charging or panicking you will know there is little you can do to stop it.

Good decisions start from keeping our elephant (emotions) calm and letting our thinking brain helps us decide what is best; especially when under pressure. When emotions take over we can’t think clearly and often mess up and make bad decisions or poor choices.

Take note that I didn’t say you must get rid of your emotions. Emotions are necessary for performance, they give us motivation and give us that adrenaline kick needed to focus and push through when we feel we have nothing left to give. You just want to keep emotions in check and make them work for you.

So how do you stay calm? One of the best ways is to breathe.  Almost more than any other technique, deep diaphragmatic breathing helps you stay calm and relaxed by calming emotions and helping release muscular tension caused by stress or nerves.

We know most people normally take between 10 and 30 breaths a minute, but for relaxing breathing the magic number is 6. I know that seems like very few breaths, but done properly it’s quite easy to do:

1) Pretend you have a balloon in your stomach, as you breathe in you need to blow the balloon up (i.e. your stomach moves out…often when we take a deep breath we do the opposite and our stomach is sucked in and our shoulders hunch up which not what we want for relaxing breathing). Then as you breathe out imagine all the air in the balloon being blown out. The trick is to keep your shoulders and upper chest as relaxed as possible while you breathe in and out.

2) To breathe at about 6 breaths a minute the rhythm is: 3 seconds in, 5 seconds out (with a slight pause between the in and out breaths)

Deep breathing in this way helps to calm your emotions and prevent panic. Your logical brain can now make better decisions which means you will perform better.

So don’t panic, just breathe!

 Kirsten van heerden copy

Don’t Panic! How to stay calm under pressure

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