Five Effective Ways To Help Athletes Stay Calm

Competing in high-pressure environments becomes second nature for athletes. Many athletes thrive on the intensity, pressure, and stress of elite-level sports. 

However, the stress and anxiety following game day can linger on for hours or even days for some athletes. So, what can athletes do to relieve their mental and physical stress after game day? Are there any proven methods they can implement? Absolutely.

Having worked in professional sports at the highest level for over twenty years, I’d like to share my top five most effective strategies for helping athletes master their emotional control

These strategies will address methods for maintaining composure during competition and effective ways to relax post-competition.

1. The Proven Power Of Deep Breathing

Correct and efficient breathing is crucial for athletes, especially under pressure. When athletes are stressed, their breathing tends to become shallow and irregular, resulting in reduced oxygen supply to the body and a decrease in performance. 

To counteract this, adjusting breathing patterns to alleviate stress and improve athletic performance is essential. Deep breathing offers various physical and mental benefits, including:

  • Enhanced oxygen intake
  • Relaxation, and
  • Greater control over the situation.

Feeling in control helps athletes relax both mentally and physically, reducing muscle tension and promoting a calm mindset. This state of calm allows athletes to better manage their emotions and combat negative thoughts, such as the fear of missing a shot or fearing failure

Focusing on slow, deep breathing can also help athletes manage fear and frustration. In situations where things are not going well in a game, athletes often rush and force actions, leading to mistakes. Deep breathing helps athletes maintain composure, reducing the likelihood of costly errors and improving overall performance.

2. Passive And Active Muscle Relaxation

Did you know that the most common sign of an athlete being under pressure is muscle tension? That’s right, muscle tension can singlehandedly destroy a player’s performance; have you ever tried to run to first base while your legs were “stiff as a board” or “wobbling like jelly?” 

When it comes to muscle relaxation techniques, the two most commonly used are “Passive Relaxation” and “Active Relaxation.” Passive relaxation is performed before or after competition, while active relaxation can be performed before or during play. Just as deep breathing does, relaxing your muscles helps you gain control of your motor actions and helps to calm your racing mind. 

An example of Passive Relaxation.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

What It Is: This technique involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups.

How to Do It: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Start by tensing a muscle group (e.g., your feet) for about 5-10 seconds, then slowly release the tension while focusing on the feeling of relaxation. Move up the body, repeating this process for each muscle group.

An example of Active Relaxation.

Dynamic Stretching

What It Is: Stretching exercises that involve movement to keep muscles warm and relaxed.

How to Do It: Athletes perform controlled movements that stretch muscles and increase their range of motion, such as leg swings, arm circles, or lunges. These stretches are typically done as part of a warm-up routine.

3. Music 

Many professional athletes integrate music into their pre-game routines to manage their emotions. Numerous studies have shown that music positively impacts our emotional and physical well-being. 

Music has the power to:

  • Pump athletes up
  • Inspire
  • Motivate
  • Calm, and
  • even make them smile.

The versatility of music allows each athlete to find a genre that resonates with their personality and specific needs. Whether an athlete seeks calmness or energy, there’s a type of music that can help them get into their desired mindset.

In addition to its emotional effects, music also offers physiological benefits. Calming music can slow breathing and reduce muscle tension while diverting attention from pre-game stress and anxiety.

In essence, listening to music before a competition can help relieve tension, slow breathing, and foster feelings of positivity and inspiration

4. Meditation

Meditation offers athletes a valuable way to enhance their awareness of their emotions and feelings, ultimately aiding them in achieving peak athletic performance.

In sports, the mind-body connection is widely recognized as crucial. The mind significantly influences an athlete’s ability to cope with various aspects of their sport, such as injury, pain, defeat, and external pressures like fan expectations, media scrutiny, and weather conditions.

Similar to other exercises or activities, meditation may initially seem challenging for athletes. However, once they become accustomed to it, they often experience a notable improvement in their performance. One effective way to begin is by transforming negative thoughts into positive ones.

Below is a straightforward meditation exercise for athletes to try:

  1. Find a quiet place to sit.
  2. Breathe slowly through the nose and focus on the sensations in the body.
  3. Contract each muscle group for 5 seconds, then allow them to relax, starting from the legs and moving up to the face and neck.
  4. Afterward, sit quietly for 5 minutes, paying attention to your thoughts and the sensations in your muscles.

Before fully integrating meditation into their routine, athletes may benefit from practicing it an hour or two before their next training session. This approach will give them insight into the experience, its duration, and its physical, mental, and emotional effects.

5. Mantras

What is a mantra, and how can it help athletes? A mantra “is a statement or principle that people repeat often because they believe it’s true,” especially in challenging situations. 

Mantras are important for keeping athletes positive, like when they’re in the middle of a tough race or game. Each athlete’s mantra will be different based on their personality and sport. 

For example, one athlete might repeat, “Relax,” while another might say, “C’mon, don’t give up,” or “I’ve got this.” It’s important to help your athletes find a mantra that resonates with them. Don’t just copy others because it sounds cool, either.

Finding the right mantra takes time, and patience is important. Mantras aren’t a quick fix but can help athletes reach their peak performance.

That’s A Wrap

Athletes must maintain composure to perform at their best. As coaches, we can help implement strategies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, listening to music, meditation, and using mantras. 

These techniques not only improve physical performance but also promote mental toughness and help athletes manage stress effectively. By incorporating these methods into their routines, athletes can achieve greater emotional control, allowing them to excel in high-pressure environments and recover quickly.

It’s important to remember that mastering these strategies takes practice and patience, but the benefits are well worth the effort.




Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes who have won more than 15 international events combined. He holds a degree in Sports Coaching and was the former Head Coach of the Japanese Government Sports Institute. Brenton also served as the former Manager & Head Coach to Australia’s Governing Sporting Body and has been a Dunlop International Advisory Board member since 2010. Additionally, he has successfully been self-employed for 17 years and understands the challenges of building a business. Brenton’s expertise lies in goal setting, leadership, internal and external motivation, biomechanics, and program design and delivery. Brenton continues to consult with professional athletes and sporting organizations.

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