Why Do Some Athletes Freeze During Competition?

  • 3 January 2023

One of the most frustrating things for an athlete to experience is the sense of “freezing up” during a game or competition. They spend hours every week training and preparing for that exact moment, and then they freeze. They know they aren’t performing up to their potential and what they know they’re capable of. This stresses them out, their frustration increases, and typically speaking, it’s a downhill spiral from there…unless an athlete knows how reign the emotions in and regain control of the situation. So what causes athletes to freeze?

1.     Feeling under pressure – This can show itself in many different ways but a few include: pressure from parents, pressure from coaches, pressure from oneself, pressure from the importance of a game/competition (i.e. needing to qualify for something such as moving on to regionals from state), feeling like your team is counting on you, etc. The pressure and fear of not meeting expectations can be overwhelming and cause an athlete to freeze.

2.     Thinking into the future or the past – If the athlete is focused anywhere but the present moment, they can cause themselves unnecessary stress which results in poor performances. When athletes think into the future, they are typically thinking about what the end result of the event will be, if they will qualify further, if people will be proud of them, and “what if’s” such as “what if something goes wrong?”. When athletes reflect on the past, they might be thinking about a mistake they’ve made, a time where they previously competed at that competition or against that team/opponent, or past words from parents, coaches, teammates, etc.

3.     Caring too much – Believe it or not, there should be a certain “carefree” attitude when it comes time for an athlete to compete. It’s not that the athlete doesn’t care how they will perform or whether they win or lose. However, by the time a competition or game rolls around, it is time for the athlete to showcase what they can do. All of the practice and training leading up to that moment should have prepared the athlete for what needs to be done. When the time comes, the athlete should be able to trust their training and preparation and go into the competition “carefree” without worrying about the outcome. This allows the athlete to relax and enjoy the fun of competing, which actually results in a better performance than if an athlete went in overthinking everything they needed to do. That only raises the pressure the athlete feels, which increases tension and stress, which left unmanaged will lead to poor results.

4.     Fearing success – This is a strange one to think about, but sometimes athletes actually fear success! They don’t usually realize that is what’s happening at the time, but a fear of success can really cause athletes to freeze. Athletes may subconsciously fear success for a number of reasons: more may be expected of them, higher standards will be set, they may be put up against stronger competition, they might have to learn and use harder & scarier skills, etc.

5.     Not having the skills to control nervousness, anxiety, frustration, overthinking, etc. – If an athlete has not had proper training in mental skills, and does not have the tools to control emotions or thinking patterns that can sabotage their performance, they will be much more likely to freeze during a game or competition.

With the right tools and proper training, athletes can learn to avoid these types of situations and/or overcome them whenever they do occur. When an athlete “freezes” it always has something to do with their thoughts or emotions – both of which can be controlled by the athlete. This is why it is so important for athletes to train their minds, and not leave their performances up to chance. They train far too hard for their mind to sabotage them when the moment comes!

Emily Williams, MA, Owner
Champion Mindset Consulting LLC