The Learning Process

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Dealing with Stress in Athletes

Stress in Athletes
      Figure skating is a sport that requires both very challenging physical and mental qualities that impose emotional obstacles to athletes, especially school age children, that are stressors affecting performance.

      It’s important to learn to recognize when an athlete's stress levels are out of control. The insidious thing about stress is you can gradually get used to it to a point that it feels normal. Individuals don’t realize how much it’s affecting them. 

      The signs and symptoms of stress overload can be almost anything. Stress affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently.
      Stress can emerge as emotional displays of irritation, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc. Stress also can refer to physical injuries to the body's bone structure. Identify, understand, and managing both forms of stress in developing figure skaters is frequently lacking in a program of preventive efforts resulting in a delay in treatment until after serious damage has occurred.

PDF Stress fractures in elite figure skaters  Stress fractures are more prevalence
in elite male and female single skaters and female pair skaters.

Stress fractures in figure skaters
Authered by Marko Pećina, MD, PhD;  Ivan Bojanić, MD; and Sanda Dubravčić, MD Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Yugoslavia
In 1987, during two great skating contests—the Universiade in the Tatra Mountains and the Gold Pirouette in Zagreb—a total of 42 world class skaters were asked through a questionnaire if they had ever in their career suffered from a stress fracture. Of the 42 skaters, 9 had stress fractures. Four stress fractures occurred during preseason training (two fibular, one second metatarsal, and two fourth metatarsal stress fractures). Increased mileage was reported by three skaters and the fourth had done too much speed training on hills. Five stress fractures occurred during the season (one tibial and two tarsal navicular stress fractures and two stress fractures of the base of the fifth metatarsal).

In all cases, the fracture occurred in the take-off leg. All of the subjects were competitive figure skaters with a daily training period of 3 to 8 hours, six times a week. The time from the onset of symptoms to definite diagnosis ranged from 2 to 10 weeks. Of the nine injured skaters, eight were treated conservatively and one skater with Jones' fracture was treated surgically.

All of the skaters were able to resume a preinjury level of activity 3 to 7 months after treatment began. In conclu sion, it may be emphasized that stress fractures in figure skaters are not rare and should, therefore, always be considered as a possibility.

Download PDF Tips on preventing Figure Skating injuries and identifying overuse and trauma injuries. Treatment interventions for chronic muscles injuries and stress fractures.

Common Injuries Experienced by Figure Skaters
      Figure skaters may experience two types of injuries: overuse and traumatic injuries. It is estimated that half of all injuries are caused by over training and are preventable. Male singles skaters have a higher incidence of traumatic and overuse injuries, followed by female pair skaters and single skaters.

Common Overuse Injuries
  • Stress fractures commonly affect the foot and also the spine
  • Stress reactions, such as shin splints and medial tibial stress syndrome
  • Tendonitis of the Achilles, patellar, or peroneal
  • Muscle strains of the hip
  • Jumpers knee or patellofemoral syndrome
  • Apophysitis – Osgood-Schlatter (knee) or iliac crest (hip)
  • Bursitis in the ankle
  • Excessively tight lacing of boots causing an irritation of the tibialis anterior and toe extensor tendon 
Common Traumatic Injuries
  • Ankle sprains and fractures
  • Dislocation of the patella or shoulder
  • ACL and meniscal tears
  • Head injury and concussion
  • Labral tears of the hip
  • Lacerations
PDF Crossing Over - US Figure Skating For figure skating in particular, repetitive, precise movements are key to gaining success in the sport. This type of training causes loads of stress to be placed on the body.

Causes of Stress
      What really causes mental and/or emotional stress and is it necessarily a bad thing? Can stress actually be helpful or it can be hazardous? How does stress physically affect your body? What are your choices to deal with stress and manage it in your everyday life?

      Imagine a situation you consider to be stressful. Did you feel:
  • Overwhelmed, helpless and frustrated, or,
  • Energized, challenged and hopeful?
      What was your body's reaction to the situation? Did your muscles tense up and your heart start racing?  How did you respond:
  • By ignoring the situation or avoiding it/running away, or,
  • By staying and confronting the issue?
      Your response to these questions provides an insight as to how you view such situations and  determines how you deal with it. It is your perception of the situation and your ability to handle it that causes stress.

Not all Stressful Situations produces a Negative Result
      Not everyone reacts to stressful situations in the same manner. For example, in a catastrophic event, such as a natural disasters, will bring out different reactions with some people performing heroically and others experiencing a total physical and mental shutdown.

      Stress is part of our daily living experience. How each individual deals with the stress and the length of any specific stressful experience can vary widely. In extremely stressful conditions or if the stress persists over a long-term accumulated effects will damage your body. Actually, small quantities of stress can produce a positive boost in performance.

      Short-term stress can be expected before an important job presentation, test, interview, or competitive sporting event. In these circumstances the stress triggers a chemical reaction in the body that provides extra energy needed to perform at your best. But long-term stress is when a person constantly worries over their job, school, or family - may actually drain the person's energy and their ability to perform at a high level.

      Some people lead unexciting lives with little or no stress. As a result they are rather boring and mundane, but it also can mean they are not be living up to their full potential. Conversely, if everything or large portions of someone's life causes sever stress, they may experience personality/behavior symptomatic of physical or mental health problems that will acerbate their behavior.

      Everyone from the very young to the elderly experience stress in their life. Sometimes friends, family, and co-workers described the symptoms as being moody, grumpy, out of sorts, etc.  Stress can also emerge as displays of irritation, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.  Understanding and handling stress in developing figure skaters is frequently ignored.

      Stress has been proven to contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, and reduces a person's resistance to less serious illnesses like colds. Prolonged, high stress levels can contribute to susceptibility to alcoholism, obesity, drug addiction, cigarette use, depression, and other harmful behaviors.

Managing Stress
      Gaining an awareness of the impact stress has on our mind and body provides a pathway of changing how we deal with stress. This will lead to a healthier and more balanced life. The following suggestions are provided to manage stress in your life:
  • Learn to recognize potential situations for conflicts that can become emotionally charged and highly stressful.  Anticipate how you can handle such situations in a more positive and healthier manner. If you have difficulty expressing your feelings, you need to learn how to be more assertive so you are better prepared to handle it in a completely different manner.

  • Eliminate unhealthy coping mechanisms such as compulsive behaviors: alcohol, drugs and over eating.  Replace these behaviors with healthy substitutes such as exercise, yoga, spiritual practice or outdoor activities.

  • Become aware if you practice negative self talk. You may need professional counseling to work on ways of building yourself up instead of tearing yourself down.

  • Are you contributing to the stressfulness of situations? Plan ahead so you are better organized help yourself feel more in control!  Stop avoiding issues and problems. Confront them head on by making small changes to make a stressful situation more manageable.

  • Take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Your body sends signals if you are not getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, or exercising. Recognize these signals are indicative that some action needs to occur to prevent the problem from becoming critical.

  • When you are feeling tense, immediately cease the behavior and begin performing deep breathing exercises while visualizing yourself in a serene, tranquil setting.

  • Learn the difference between what you can and cannot control. Do not accept responsible for things occurring in another person's life unless you want to feel like a failure and become depressed for someone else's behavior.

  • Set healthy boundaries. Do not overextend yourself by saying yes when you really must say no! Taking on too many responsibilities leads to exhaustion, resentment and stressful relationships.

  • Seek the assistance of a therapist or join a support group before stress has become overwhelming to the point where it is affecting your physical and emotional health.

Recommended Reading:
      The following articles are provided to make you aware of how stress can be channeled to achieve positive rather than negative results.

Personal and Public Boundaries   Some boundaries are very real and tangible, like fences with locked gates that secure property. Intangible boundaries are inside you. They determine what you do and don't do. They also establish what you will tolerate others doing to you.

Tools to Handle Stress Situations   A little stress is not going to kill you. Small doses can actually be good for you. However, chronic and severe stress can damage your body and mind.

The Role Our Thoughts and Emotions Play in our Actions  There is both positive and negative energy associated with our emotions. We transmit an invisible, but palpable energy to others that reflects our mental and physical health.

Traits of a World Class Athlete  The characteristics shared by elite and world class figure skater are:
• In order to be the best, you first must select a discipline you desire to excel —
• Only after someone discovers their passion are they ready to do what it takes to achieve
   their desired goal.
• Everyone wants to be great, but only a few are willing to pay the price to achieve their
   passion. These individuals are not afraid of working hard, putting in extra time, and 
  sacrificing other interests to pursue their goal.

Profiling a Competitor  “Competitors” are those individuals who strive to make themselves better, support teammates efforts to improve, and work to towards improving the sport of figure skating.

Do you Approach Testing or Competing with Trepidation?  Many individuals develop “cold feet” or second guess their decision to test or compete. It is common for this individual to put off making a decision until the cutoff date has passed.

Dealing with Daily Stressful Situations  It is important that every individual be proactive and become an active participant in making the decisions that affect your life. Accepting responsibility for making decisions allows you to reject/avoid stressful situations and helps you to accept accountability for your decisions.

Identifying Negative Thinking
Some common forms of negative self doubting include:

• Filtering
• Personalizing
• Catastrophizing
• Polarizing

The Role of Positive Thinking in Stress Management  Is your glass half-empty or half-full? How you answer this age-old question about positive thinking may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic.

How To Use Imagery and Self Hypnosis for Sports What is Imagery? Imagery, sometimes called guided imagery, visualization, mental rehearsal, or self hypnosis, refers to specific techniques often used by psychologists to help individuals visualize or mentally rehearse a desired event.

Improve Your Sport Performance with Visualization Techniques  Guided Imagery May Improve Athletic Performance. Visualization has also been called guided imagery, mental rehearsal, mediation, and a variety of other things -- no matter the term, the basic techniques and concepts are the same.

Are you ready to take your performance to the next level?  The essential goal is to establish a method and an approach that fuels success. At the center of this concept is strengthening an athlete's inner belief that they can achieve greatness. 

Only when change is created at the subconscious level does a real transformation and athletes can effectively program their minds for success, release old ideas of limitation, and experience rapid, positive, and lasting results.

The Sports Environment


Learn More About:

Is Your Stress IQ Hurting Your Performance?     by Dr. Mick G. Mack

Jitter Bug: Overcoming the First Tee (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Pass or Fail: Learning How to Make the Grade (golf)    by Patrick J. Cohn

Preventing "Choking" and Downward Performance Cycles     by Dr. Robert M. Nideffer

A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Anxiety in Athletes     by Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.

Q-School Pressure Takes Mental Toughness (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Shooting Low Means Beating Fear (golf)     by Patrick J. Cohn

Stress, Anxiety and Energy     Follow the down arrow (at page top and bottom) for continued discussion.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Performance: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective     by Miguel Humara, M.A.

Sports Training


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:
Sports Information
PDF  Off Ice Training Guides

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