Overcoming Competition Anxiety

strongman training

So who am I?

Good question.

My name is Jay Smith. I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been involved in strength athletics competitively since my first strongman contest in 2005.

The first competition I did was a partner competition. A bodybuilder and I from the gym entered together about a week before the contest date. We placed 4th out of 10.

After that, Grant Connors, a 2-time Atlantic Canada’s Strongest Man title holder, who happened to train at our gym, asked me if I’d like to travel to New Brunswick with him for another contest a few weeks later.

OF COURSE!

So off we went. I was still in high school at the time, and I remember being excited to tell everyone back home that I got to walk with 600lbs on my back, pull a fire truck and flip a car! You have to understand this was a couple of years before Facebook took off. I think we were all still using MSN…. But I digress!

After the contest, I remember an older veteran of the sport named Jeff being very nervous. I was 235 lbs and an 18-year-old kid. He was in his mid 30’s and had been competing for six years, but we were pretty close going into the final event.

He said, “I don’t know man, I’m not sure who got 2nd and who got 3rd!” I said, ” I’m not particularly concerned, I JUST FLIPPED A CAR! HOW COOL IS THAT!?” His quick reply was, “There’s a 200 dollar difference between 2nd and 3rd place! I need to make rent!” And just as quickly I said, “WE GET MONEY FOR THIS!?”

14 year old jay
Here’s I am (Jay) as a teenager after his first strongman competition.

Life in Competition

I competed for another six consecutive years with a good deal of success all over the east coast and traveled to compete in Ontario, Labrador, and British Columbia. I did a powerlifting meet four days after turning 19, tinkered with arm wrestling tournaments, and finally found myself living in Edmonton, AB, in 2012.

That year proved to be the greatest year in my strongman career. A few things happened: I got invited to Western Canada’s Strongest Man in Regina, Sask. In the East, I had remained the bridesmaid; never quite having the day where my best was enough to get into the top 2 spots to qualify for Canada’s Strongest Man. But in the West there are more athletes, so they get three spots.

I had a great day, and this time, my best WAS enough for a qualifying spot to the big dance. Three weeks later I competed in Alberta’s Strongest Man, where I won 5 events and tied in the deadlift, earning me the title of Alberta’s Strongest Man 2012.  In October, at the end of the season, there was also a contest held in Calgary. It was sponsored in part by Bells of Steel, and this is how I came to know the company and Mr. Kaevon Khoozani.

“It was this season that changed a lot of things about how I viewed strongman and my future.”

Alongside strongman, I entered and won my first amateur Highland Games. Something I’ve always wanted to try and regret now not getting involved in it sooner. After all, I come from Nova Scotia, which means New Scotland! It’s arguably the Highland Games capital of North America!

I fell in love, but I didn’t know then that the seed planted in my soul that day would grow into something much bigger someday.

highland jay

BUT JAY! WHAT ABOUT THE 2012 CANADA’S STRONGEST MAN CONTEST!?!?!?!?

Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten!

Day 1

That contest was held in Quebec City. I was overwhelmed. It was the big show! I remember seeing Hugo Girard and Christian Savoie and thinking, “I used to watch these guys on TV growing up, and now I’m competing with them! Not watching in the stands, I’M A COMPETITOR!”

And then the nerves hit me. I didn’t get much sleep the night before day one. When I woke up, I felt like I had the flu. I was puking and running to the bathroom. Between events, I tried to get as psyched up as one can in a rent-a-stall portable bathroom… Let’s just say that my Day 1 was a disaster. I was depressed. I started questioning right then if I should even be there. I was embarrassing myself!

Brad Provick of Saskatchewan and Mike Saunders of Quebec were both very awesome to me that evening after the contest and at supper. They both gave me some great advice, “Act like today never happened!” But how? “I don’t care, today never happened. There’s nothing you can do to change the standings in Day one. DON’T let it ruin your Day 2!” They were right.

But that didn’t make the flu symptoms subside. I was again up all night making friends with the bathroom. And in between events on Day 2 I was still running to the bathroom saying, “PLEASE GOD, DON’T LET ME S**T MYSELF ON NATIONAL TV!!!!”

Day 2

Day 2 started with a wheel barrow walk. Essentially a big frame with loading plates and you have 30 seconds and one drop to go 30 feet. Successful athletes move to the next weight. We started with 1,550lb. Then 1,750; 2,000; 2,220 and finally I and everyone but Savoie dropped out here. I placed 4th. Day 2 treated me much much better than the previous. The next day I was still contemplating if I belonged in that contest, but the flu magically went away.

Fast forward two years later as I write this article. The last two weeks have been the biggest breakthrough for me in my athletic career.

But Jay, what about the last two years since the greatest season of your life?

This article is about overcoming competition anxiety right? Well, to write about that I needed to tell you about some of my successes that lead up to this anxiety.

For the last two years, I have done one strongman contest in 2013 and two Highland Games in 2014. I’ve been blaming my tweaky back issues but up until very recently. I was lying to myself. I believe my back would have held up in

I believe my back would have held up in the contest, and I probably would have had some high placings. But the truth is, I was scared. There I said it! I thought in my head that if I didn’t repeat 2012 that I would make a mockery of myself and become a has-been that never was! And that thought has plagued me for over two years. I am thoroughly embarrassed and at the same time… I’m free because I finally admitted the truth to myself.

“I’m free because I finally admitted the truth to myself.”

At first, the realization scared me. I ruined strongman for myself. I stripped the fun out of it for no one else, but me. I came to this realization when I made a simple post on Facebook asking friends how athletes cope when they realize the game is over for them.

And the response was impressive.

I didn’t plan for it to turn into a statement of self-retirement from a sport I’ve loved for my entire adult life, but to some degree I did. While I will continue to compete in strongman, it’s taking the back seat to the Highland Games.

For now, I will enter strongman contests and learn to enjoy the sport again. I found myself turning into Jeff, the guy from my second contest. I started thinking of it as a means to pay rent. At times I was going to a contest NEEDING to place at least in X position or I wouldn’t have gas money to get home!

“After two years off I’ve realized that I need to learn to love the game again.”

And after two years off I’ve realized that I need to enjoy the game again. I destroyed something I loved because I forgot why I was doing it in the first place. I lost that OMG I GOT TO FLIP A CAR TODAY feeling.

But in that two years, I found the Highland Games…. And this my friends gives me that feeling in my belly again. A new challenge, starting from the bottom in a sport where I’m not one of the best!….YET!!!

How do you beat competition anxiety?

I don’t know what will work for you. But what worked for me was talking about it.

Openly.

When I finally stopped lying to myself and allowed myself to accept what was right in front of my face but I was too afraid to admit… It was a rush.

I can only imagine it being compared to jumping out of an airplane. I was free again. My advice to you if you ever feel like the game is over for you, is to be honest with yourself. Think back to when you first started and why you fell in love with whatever your sport is, be it powerlifting, archery or curling.

Does it still make you feel like a little girl at a Bieber concert? If not, don’t get discouraged. Your next journey might be right under your nose!


About the Author

Jay Smith lives in Edmonton, AB. He is a competitive strongman, powerlifter, arm wrestler and Highland Games athlete. 2012 Alberta’s Strongest Man. 2012 Western Canada’s 3rd Strongest Man. Find him on Twitter here.