Sports Psychology
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San Diego Figure Skating Communications

Stress and Anxiety
Experienced by Athletes

Everyone Experiences different Stress Levels
     Stress is a normal part of any learning and performing activity. Many learners attempt to deal with stress in ways that are counter-productive or even self defeating because their behavior and attitudes tend to diminish their performance rather than enhance it. 

    This article contains information and tips on how to effectively reduce your stress by preparing for taking tests and enter competitions.  The stress of preparation cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed, through relaxation exercises and various stress busters.  Some guidelines to try include:
Try to stay on a regular daily schedule - don't attempt to cram just prior to testing or competing.
Eat a well balanced healthy diet.

Do not smoke or use drugs, alcohol, etc.
Insure that you have a regular sleep schedule, especially if traveling across time zones is involved.
     Stress and anxiety are part of everyone's life - non-athletes and athletes. Most athletes generally associate stress and anxiety with physical injuries. Everyone feels the pressure to succeed, pressure of failing, fear of injury, fear of reinjure, or anxiety about overcoming an injury. However, many individuals do not and will not recognize the symptoms.

     The major sources of stress reported in individuals and coaches in amateur and professional sports includes:

  • the fear of failure,
  • concerns about social evaluation by others (particularly the coach),
  • lack of readiness to perform,
  • a loss of internal control over one's environment.

    There is a difference between stress and anxiety. Stress exists when a perceived situation and abilities to handle the perceived situation are not equal.

    Negative stress is a cognitive response to a physiological reaction. Typically, one or more symptoms will be observed, including:
  • having low self confidence,
  • making negative comments about yourself,
  • being more self critical,
  • consistently performing under your ability (particularly in pressure situations),
  • having trouble sleeping the night before an event,
  • experiencing difficulty getting loose before a competition,
  • feeling ill or upset before an event
    The intensity of anxiety before and during test and competitive sports activities can be so serious and debilitating, that the athlete is incapable of performing.

    To modify an individuals reaction to stress and anxiety requires changes in two main categories:
  •  thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of stressful situations,
  •  the physical bodily responses to stressful conditions
     To effectively use stress management techniques, the personality of the athlete and their lifestyle must to be taken into account. The athlete must learn to share control of the rehabilitation process with the athletic trainer otherwise the stress and anxiety management strategies can increase an athletes stress and anxiety.

     Stress and anxiety management must include a plan to:
  • decreasing pain,
  • decreasing the occurrence of an injury,
  • increasing the adherence of rehabilitation,
  • enhancing physical healing,
  • assisting in adjustment to being injured and improved coping skills to deal with the stress of the injury,
  • enhancing mental readiness to return to full participation.
    The athlete must buy into the explanation of the plan if they are to be fully involved in the rehabilitation plan.  If properly reassured it is possible to counteract psychological disturbance. Psychological strategies to achieve a positive outcome include:
  • visual rehearsal,
  • emotive rehearsal,
  • body rehearsal,
  • thought stoppage,
  • mental practice.
    The following methods to decrease stress and implement coping techniques have proven to be effective:
  • social support,
  • relaxation techniques,
  • imagery,
  • thought stoppage,
  • modeling,
  • behavior rehearsal,
  • coping with frustration,
  • establishing a positive environment,
    The importance of the role of the support systems has been demonstrated to play a vital role in recovery and rehabilitative process and to affect the adherence to rehabilitation. Some of the techniques include:
  • mental imagery,
  • relaxation modeling,
  • goal setting,
  • positive self talk,
  • pain management,
  • education,
  • stress management,
  • cognitive reconstruction.
     Athletes lacking a strong social support system or who are involved in high stress related to life events are more likely to sustain injury. All of the techniques mentioned above can be effective. However, each athlete needs to find the technique(s) that satisfies his/her needs and one which he/she feels comfortable consistently adhering to achieve the desired results.

Stress and Anxiety 
    Stress and anxiety definitions and measurements. ... 'An emotional state, similar to fear, associated with arousal and ... Examples are Martens Sports Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) and Speilbergers State Trait Anxiety Inventory

    Measuring an athletes levels of stress can be achieved in three ways:

Self-report questionnaires: Easy to complete although can be open to inaccurate responses. Examples are Martens Sports Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT) and Speilbergers State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)

Physiological Measurements: Measuring physiological responses to a situation can indicate a stress response. Measurements such as heart rate, sweating, muscle tension and oxygen uptake can be used although this can involve expensive, bulky equipment

Observation: Viewing an athletes behavior before, during and after an event can provide much information about their stress response. Clues to watch out for include shaking, talking fast, frequent toilet visits, biting the nails, and an inability to stay still.

Recommended Reading:

Stress and Anxiety | The Sport Digest   Some athletes have to overcome the fear and anxiety associated with returning to sports. “The major sources of stress that have been reported by sports performers include fear of failure, concerns about social evaluation by others (particularly the coach), lack of readiness to perform, and a loss of internal control over one’s environment.

Stress and Anxiety in Athletics | The Sport Digest
The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448. Navigation ... Stress and Anxiety in Athletics ... All athletic trainers should be concerned with how stress and anxiety affect their athletes. ... The stress model demonstrates what factors affect stress in sport.

PDF Stress and anxiety in sport comments of participants in sport themselves. Arousal and performance. The longest standing approach to the relationship between stress, anxiety and
performance in sport is probably the inverted-U hypothesis, derived from the work of Yerkes and Dodson.

The Sports Environment


Managing Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety revision flash cards

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.


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:

Alcohol Abuse
Drug Abuse
Caffeine Use
Nicotine Use
Response to Stressors
Learning to be Helpless
Depression and Elation
Eating Disorders
Learning Disorders
Stress and Anxiety
Athlete Motivation
Flow/Peak Performance
Focus & Concentration
Goals and Objectives
Goal Setting
Personal Sabotage
Self Fulfilling Prophecy

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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