Headspace

Using adrenaline to enhance performance

Apr 26, 2021

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, especially in races when the pressure is on you – and yourself and others expect you to deliver the goods! Does it feel like sometimes, or even mostly, that you perform much better in training than in races?

Run Life | Using adrenaline in races

The reason for this is due to the nerves, tension, and pressure you feel in races as opposed to the freedom and pleasure you feel in training.  When you practise you have second chances and the opportunity to keep rehearsing until you get it right.

The expectations you have set for yourself in a race, the expectations of your coach, the expectations of your peers, the expectations of those imaginary spectators/selectors whom you think have their eyes on you and only you, and the list goes on and on. All of these expectations add to the pressure of competition.

In matches and competition, your performance is in the spotlight in the here and now. This is when you as a competitor need to feel the butterflies in your stomach and intensity of the pressure, and utilise it to its full extent to express more of your potential and make this moment count. These scenarios are what makes competition so intensely pressurising and, at the same time, so exciting.

The emotions that are evoked by the expectation, pressure and intensity of competition are the source of the overflowing waterfall of a very important chemical called adrenaline.

As a sportsman in competition, adrenaline is always going to find its way into your system, regardless of whether you are a beginner or a master at your sport. You know that adrenaline is knocking at the door when your heart begins to beat faster, your hands become sweaty and cold, your vision starts to narrow, your body feels heavier, and your muscles feel stiffer. These are only just some of the signs that you may feel when adrenaline is secreted in your body under pressure. Adrenaline is a very powerful chemical, which can either enhance or cripple your performance. You must learn to use adrenaline to your advantage.

The symptoms that adrenaline brings on usually will not change with experience, however the perception of how these symptoms and chemicals can be embraced and utilised certainly can.

Learn to adjust your perceptions of the negative sensations evoked by adrenaline so that these sensations can be translated into the excitement and exhilaration of capturing the moment. Practise viewing these negative sensations as tools that, if felt and defined as valuable, can enhance your performance. As you continue to welcome these sensations and perceive them as positive ones, you’ll begin to digest and process them as so, manufacturing a chemical reaction that not only raises performance levels but can at times break records and make history.

Expectations, tension, anxiety and pressure and, of course, adrenaline are always going to be part of competition.

Let’s look at some of the steps that can help you perceive adrenaline related sensations in a positive way:

  1. Train yourself to value your own opinions of your performance more than the opinions of others.
  2. Set the intention of giving the best you can at each moment of competition.
  3. As you feel the negative sensations associated with adrenaline, begin conversing with these feelings as if they are parts of you that are there to support your best performance.
  4. Focus more on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
  5. Accept wholeheartedly that the intensity and pressure of competition is here to stay, and learn to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
  6. Learn to feel, channel and harness the negative feelings (e.g. doubt, anger, and anxiety, etc.) which come with competition to focus your performance.
  7. Use your sense to hone your focus into the moment and focus on the here and now – The Zone that all great sportspeople strive for.

So next time you notice the negative sensations and feelings of adrenaline and/or stress rearing its ugly head, I challenge you to acquaint yourself with these perceived enemies. Take some time to get to know them better. Make an attempt to dialogue with them, be playful with them. Perhaps they can be perceived as old friends, instead of as enemies, whom you can access for support and maybe even for pleasure if you so dare to choose them as such.

Toni Gaddie


Toni Gaddie is as a Clinical and Sports Psychologist who assists national and international sports champions and business leaders in becoming and maintaining their “whole champion” status. She is also the co-founder of the Champion’s Academy. Read more about Toni here.

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