Sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I know from countless experiences how stress and anxiety can affect ones performance. Anyone involved in sports in anyway will understand the feelings that rush through you when you are in a high risk, and high pressure situations. Those final moments of a close game, or even the night before your big match or competition, are great examples of situations that would create the sudden rush of these feelings; and therefore, triggering a spike in anxiety.
Whether you are in the stands, on the bench, playing or coaching, you get that “butterfly” feeling in your stomach. The difference between success and failure is how you deal with high pressure situations. If you let nervousness and anxiety overcome you, it could cost you and your team the match or that podium spot you worked so hard for. The question is, how do you control it, and how important is it that you control it?
“Anxiety is a negative emotional state characterized by nervousness, worry, and apprehension and associated with activation or arousal of the body” (Robert S.
Weinberg, Daniel Gould, 2007). When given the opportunity to shoot that final shot for the championship game, or that final at bat, most don’t take it as an opportunity but rather a curse. In these high risk, and high pressure situations, the fear of failure taints their view of these possible opportunities to excel. This is what causes their stress and anxiety levels to rise at a drastic speed. Look at athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods. These are two athletes who are considered to be two of, if not the most clutch players in their respective sports. Do you think that when Kobe Bryant has the ball in his hand with 10 seconds left on the clock, he has any doubt in his mine that he will not make the shot? Not even in the slightest. When Tiger Woods is about to shoot a must needed approach shot? No, he sinks his chip shot to go on and win the 2005 Masters Championship. Sure, they may miss; they do miss in many cases for that matter; but the probability of success they have skyrockets when they have faith in themselves and believe that they are going to make that shot.
The opposite affect occurs when there is doubt in your mind. You tense up, your heart races, and your mind races with negative thoughts about all the possible things that could go wrong with all these thoughts going through your head it prevents you from focusing on the task at hand, and what needs to be done for you to get the best opportunity to win the game. Athletes such as Bryant and Woods embrace these opportunities and have enough confidence in themselves to help them sculpt the careers they have had, the championships they have won and of course all the handy money, fame, and endorsements that come along with it.
Measuring Arousal and Anxiety:
“Arousal is a blend of physiological and psychological activity in a person, and it refers to the intensity dimensions of motivation at a particular moment” (Robert S. Weinberg, Daniel Gould, 2007). To determine how to work through periods of high stress/anxiety, you must first distinguish the type of anxiety and its severity. How do we measure anxiety/arousal? The physical effects of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and respiration and arousal increase in severity as the anxiety increases.
Physical signs of arousal are things such as increased heart rate and respiration, where symptoms of anxiety can be anything from feeling nervous, to becoming physically ill. When experiencing symptoms of stress, take a deep breath and gage the amount of side-effects that are occurring. The gage in which we measure anxiety and arousal differ from person to person. To accurately measure this we must identify certain triggers that are unique to individuals and find ways to cope with them. Everybody has their own reasons to be afraid of failure, for they have their own unique consequences. What they have to find is a way to deal with these consequences and control the outcome.
The first stage in controlling your stress and anxiety levels is acknowledging the fact that you experience these symptoms, identifying common triggers, and finding ways to work through these periods of anxiety. A very important and useful way in coping with stress and anxiety is to train at a maximum level. “Aim to exercise regularly. Exercise dissipates the adrenaline that builds up in stressful situations and leaves us feeling with a sense of achievement and control” (BrainMac Sports Coach, 2011). If you know at critical points in your sport that you have trained to your maximum level, are convinced that you are more prepared, physically stronger, and more focused than your opponent, your stress levels deplete and you are now prepared for the task at hand.
A great technique which many coaches have taught and used with me is the use of visualization methods. Studies show that if you take time before every match, or even if you are lying in bed the night before your match, and visualize yourself hitting that game winning shot over and over in your head, it will put you in a more positive mindset; therefore, improving your chances at being successful. It is a technique that requires much attention and detail as possible; visualize the sound of the crowd, the colours all around you, your teammates, etc. The more detail in the event you put into it the more it resonates in your mind.
When it comes time to hit that shot, if you are able say to yourself, “I’ve already hit this shot 100 times last night,” your anxiety will drop, and your mind will be focused on all the possible successes instead of possible failures. There are also very knowledgeable sports psychologists in the field that are very helpful with understanding the importance of controlling your stress and anxiety. “Sport psychology consultants can work with athletes to strengthen their mental preparedness in order to enhance and improve athletic performance” (Ott & Van Puymbroek, 2006). They are trained to help you understand the pressure you are under and give you ways how to deal with it.
For some athletes sports aren’t just games to them they have that extra competitive edge which can sometimes be a good thing, but can also lead to a lot of external pressure and internal stress. There are many athletes that take it upon themselves to be perfect and when mistakes come they shut down and do not know how to deal with the overwhelming pressure that they put on themselves. There are also external factors such as coaches, parents, friends etc. that can also put even more pressure on you which is why athletes who have problems dealing with stress need to try and block out some of these factors and focus more on themselves.
“Concentration, confidence, control and commitment (the 4C’s) are generally considered the main mental qualities that are important for successful performance in most sports” (BrainMac Sports Coach, 2011). If you can concentrate on the task at hand, have the confidence that you will beat your opponent, control your state of mind, and commit to what needs to be done you should have no problem with stress and anxiety. With these 4C’s and use the techniques explained above, it should help you immensely in helping you push through those stressful situations you may encounter.
Weinberg, R. & Gould, D. (2007) Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology Ott, K. & Van Puymbroeck, M (2006) The Sports Digest