What Is the Role of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Managing Performance Anxiety for Professional Figure Skaters?

April 8, 2024

When you imagine the scene of a professional figure skating competition, you may envision an ice rink, glittering costumes, and crowds of spectators. But behind these aesthetically pleasing visuals, there exist more complex, unseen factors. Among them, performance anxiety is a significant concern and common mental health challenge that athletes often face.

In the realm of professional sports, a considerable amount of scholarly work has been dedicated to understanding the intersection of sport psychology and athletes’ mental health. By leveraging cognitive and behavioral approaches, professionals aim to help athletes overcome their anxieties, improve their performances, and refine their overall competitive experience. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in particular, has been identified as an effective therapy for managing performance anxiety.

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Understanding Performance Anxiety

Before delving deeper into the role of CBT, let’s first gain a clearer understanding of performance anxiety. In simple terms, anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease or worry. Now, imagine those feelings amplified in a high-pressure, competitive environment like a sports arena. This is performance anxiety.

For athletes, the fear of not living up to expectations, fear of failure, or perfectionism can lead to performance anxiety. PubMed, a reputable online resource for health-related research, states that performance anxiety can cause both physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or nausea, and cognitive disturbances like negative thinking or difficulty concentrating.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: An Overview

Having established what performance anxiety is, let’s explore Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). As per the Crossref database, CBT is a type of psychological treatment that helps individuals understand how their thoughts and behaviors influence each other. By identifying and challenging unhelpful beliefs and employing more adaptive thinking and behavioral strategies, CBT can change the way a person feels and behaves.

For athletes, CBT can help them understand how their anxieties and fears are often linked to their thoughts and beliefs, and how these thoughts can negatively impact their performance. By learning to identify and challenge these thought patterns, athletes can better manage their performance anxiety.

CBT and Performance Anxiety in Figure Skaters

In the context of professional figure skating, performance anxiety can be especially pronounced due to the nature of the sport. Figure skaters must perform complex routines under immense pressure, with the knowledge that a single misstep could cost them their success.

The application of CBT in managing performance anxiety for figure skaters has shown promising results. A study published on PubMed revealed that figure skaters who underwent CBT showed significant reductions in their performance anxiety levels. Skaters learnt to challenge their negative thought patterns and replace them with more adaptive beliefs, such as viewing competitions as opportunities for growth rather than a threat to their self-worth.

Putting CBT into Practice

So, how can figure skaters and their coaches put CBT into practice to manage performance anxiety? Here are a few steps adapted from a variety of behavioral therapy approaches.

Firstly, athletes should identify their negative thoughts or beliefs, such as "I always mess up my jumps under pressure". These thoughts can then be challenged by asking questions like "Is this always true, or have there been instances where I executed jumps perfectly under pressure?"

Next, athletes should create more adaptive beliefs to replace the negative ones. For example, instead of fearing failure, they could tell themselves, "Even if I falter, I can learn and improve for the next time".

Finally, athletes should practice these new thought patterns and beliefs in real-life situations. By rehearsing these cognitive strategies, they can gradually change their negative thought patterns and reduce their performance anxiety.

In summary, CBT holds great potential in helping figure skaters manage their performance anxiety. By understanding the cognitive and behavioral roots of their anxiety and learning to challenge and replace their negative thoughts, athletes can improve their performance and overall competitive experience. While the journey may not be easy, the benefits gained from CBT can pave the way for a healthier and more fulfilling career in sports.

The Impact of Performance Anxiety on Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

Performance anxiety can lead to serious mental health issues in athletes, such as eating disorders and disordered eating. A comprehensive meta-analysis available on Google Scholar revealed that athletes, particularly those in aesthetic sports like figure skating, are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders due to the high pressure to maintain a certain body shape and weight for optimal performance.

These disordered eating behaviors can result from athletes’ attempts to cope with their performance anxiety. As stated in numerous studies on sport psychology, the fear of failure or not living up to expectations can drive athletes to adopt unhealthy eating habits in an effort to control their performances. This can lead to serious health consequences in the long term.

Applying cognitive behavioral therapy can help figure skaters manage not only their performance anxiety but also related eating disorders. CBT can enable athletes to understand and challenge their negative beliefs about their performances and bodies, and replace these with healthier, more adaptive beliefs. Moreover, CBT can equip athletes with effective coping strategies for performance anxiety, reducing their reliance on disordered eating behaviors.

CBT: A Long-Term Solution and Its Application in Schools

The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy in managing performance anxiety is well-established. However, it’s worth noting that the benefits of CBT are not merely short-term. According to a study available on DOI Crossref, the positive effects of CBT can last long-term, significantly improving athletes’ mental health and performance levels even years after the therapy sessions.

This long-term effect of CBT is particularly important for young athletes. As stated in a research paper available on DOI PubMed, performance anxiety can be especially detrimental to high school athletes, impacting their mental health, academic performance, and overall quality of life.

Therefore, integrating CBT into high school sports programs could be a crucial step towards promoting mental health among young athletes. Through regular CBT sessions, athletes can learn to manage their performance anxiety from an early age, fostering resilience and positive mental health habits that could benefit them throughout their sports careers.

Coaches and sports psychologists can use various CBT techniques, such as positive talk, to help athletes challenge their negative thought patterns and develop healthy coping strategies. For instance, instead of focusing on the fear of failure, athletes can be taught to view competitions as opportunities for personal growth and learning.


Performance anxiety is a pervasive issue in professional sports, particularly in high-pressure sports like figure skating. However, cognitive behavioral therapy offers a proven, effective approach to managing this anxiety. By helping athletes understand and challenge their negative beliefs, and equipping them with adaptive coping strategies, CBT can significantly improve athletes’ performances and overall competitive experience.

Moreover, the benefits of CBT extend beyond performance enhancement. By addressing the root causes of performance anxiety, CBT can also help athletes manage related mental health issues such as eating disorders. Furthermore, the long-term effects of CBT can foster resilience and positive mental health habits in athletes, potentially shaping healthier and more fulfilling sports careers.

While the application of CBT requires effort and commitment from both athletes and their coaches, the potential rewards are immense. Therefore, integrating CBT into sports training programs, particularly at the high school level, could be a crucial step towards promoting mental health in sports. As research continues to reinforce the efficacy of CBT in sports psychology, it’s clear that this cognitive-behavioral approach holds the key to combating performance anxiety and elevating the sports experience for athletes at all levels.