It’s your first game, and they put you as a starter. You are still learning the rotations and safeties if someone reacts the wrong way. Nonetheless, in your position, you are being trusted to lead and carry. Your heart is pounding, and you are starting to sweat. You start thinking, “What if I mess up? What if I am the reason that we lose? What if they pick on me and know that I am not as good as them? What if everyone in the crowd sees that I am not good enough?” Your thoughts begin to get the best of you as you realize this game is in your hands. It’s only the start of your performance anxiety.


What is performance anxiety?



Performance anxiety is “an unpleasant psychological state in reaction to perceived stress concerning the performance of a task under pressure.” Within athletics, some may define this as “choking.”

Anxiety, in general, it is a reaction to stress and fear of apprehensions. Looking too ahead or becoming pessimistic can affect your performance on the court.


How does it pertain to Volleyball?



This is a sport that consists of six players on each team. There are several positions, but each is heavily co-dependent on one another and has a significant impact on how plays can go out. Consequently, accepting the significance of your role and delivering at a fast pace can trigger performance anxiety before the first ball is even served.


First and foremost, there are setters, which, in most cases, are required to get the second ball. This position is equivalent to the football team’s quarterback, where they lead and rule out many plays.


Second are hitters, who have the responsibility of kills and actually getting points for their team. Not going through with the expected outcome can lead to feeling that the play was for nothing.

Though passing is a fundamental skill, players, such as liberos and defensive specialists, specialize in this skill. Serve-receive, or passing when the ball is served to you affects the rest of the play.


Although several positions specialize within a different skill, everyone must carry out their play because each one can impact one another and the whole play. Not being able to deliver can make you stick out like a sore thumb. Through quick plays and games, it is possible to isolate the pressure. The opposing team may aim for a particular player when hitting or serving, which can throw your whole team out of the system and potentially make you feel like a detriment. Even within your specialty, not being able to perform your part can discourage the rest of your game. This can affect your whole game as you may already mentally set yourself up to lose.


Athletes Take



On my high school volleyball team, many of us did not play on an official team. Though some joined clinics, they developed bad habits and had to start from scratch. Many of our opposing teams have played in a club. Trying to catch up and make up for lost time affected us before we could play our first game. During our first moments of playing time, our thoughts and hearts were racing. Here are our thoughts on this topic:


Position: Setter

Grade: 12

“I get really nervous in the beginning, but once the game starts, I get into the game, and the anxiety falls away because all my efforts go into the game, and I don’t think about the crowd anymore. The next play is more important than worrying about something that I cannot fix. Focus on what you can control,” (Hannah Chung).


Position: Middle Blocker/Hitter

Grade: 11

“Performance anxiety is the worst, especially when someone you know is watching you. A way I cope with this is to tell myself to breathe and focus on the game,” (Karen Cho).


Position: Libero/Defensive Specialist

Grade: 12

“With many of my games, I let my thoughts get the best of me after bad plays and passes. Having time on the court and contributing to the team is crucial, but failing to deliver can be discouraging. Eyes are on me. I try my best to believe that I will redeem myself in the next play,” (Giselle Hernandez).


Tips for the Court & Field





Instead of focusing on negative thoughts and how fast your heart is racing, you can find peace. Focusing on something in particular can contribute to a healthy game mindset. Visualizing and painting a picture of a good game and outcome can contribute to positive thoughts.



Warming up the same way during regular practices can bring familiarity and comfort to a game. This can create a balance and a system to follow. These moments before a game are crucial and can set up a foundation.


Next Act

Negative thoughts after a horrible play or performance can result in an even worse play after. Consciously, you have already convinced yourself that you are doomed at the end of the game will be devastating and a disaster. Therefore, moving on and coming to terms that you cannot go back can help you focus on what is yet to come.


The Supporting Cast

Coaches and families can have an influence on and off the court. The way they may deliver their messages after a bad game of play can feed into unnecessary and harmful energy for the player. Many players can look to these figures for support, and being discouraged does not assist the player. In other words, the supporting cast should be cautious about how they deliver a message.


Accepting the Negative Outcomes

Athletes are not doomed for failure, but there is always room for improvement. Therefore, improvements call for mistakes. Focusing on what may occur and how others may perceive during a bad play deprives you of learning things through experiences.



In all, sports can also take a mental toll and potentially affect your performance in and off the court. Nevertheless, there are many alternatives to consider to improve your mental game and performance anxiety. Ultimately, your brain is a muscle – proper practice will strengthen you and enable you to reach your fullest potential. Good luck!


Works Cited:


Ford, Jessica L, et al. “Sport-Related Anxiety: Current Insights.” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Dove Medical Press, 27 Oct. 2017,

Ford, Jessica L, et al. “Sport-Related Anxiety: Current Insights.” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Dove Medical Press, 27 Oct. 2017,

“Tips For Helping Athletes Overcome Sports Anxiety.” Team USA,

“Volleyball 101: Volleyball Positions and Their Roles.” PRO TIPS by DICK’S Sporting Goods, 6 Sept. 2019,

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