Competition can cause athletes to react both physically (somatic) and mentally (cognitive) in a manner which can negatively affect their performance abilities. Stress, arousal and anxiety are terms used to describe this condition.
The major problem in competition is letting your mind work against you rather than for you. You must accept anxiety symptoms as part and parcel of the competition experience; only then will anxiety begin to facilitate your performance. I will further explain the elements of interference that impact on performance more below. Please see *Performance = Potential – Interference.
Anxiety – Performance Relationship Theory
* Drive Theory
According to the Drive Theory (Zajonc 1965) if an athlete is appropriately skilled then it will help them to perform well if their drive to compete is aroused – they are “psyched up”.
An alternative approach to the Drive Theory is known as the Inverted-U hypothesis (Yerkes 1908) that predicts a relationship between arousal and performance approximates to an inverted U shape. The theory is that as arousal is increased then performance improves but only up to a certain point (top of the inverted U). If the athlete’s arousal is increased beyond this point then performance diminishes.
Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory
Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory (Martens 1990) is based on the distinction between cognitive anxiety (mental) and somatic anxiety (physical). The theory makes a series of predictions:
* There will be a negative but linear relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance
* There will be an inverted U relationship between somatic anxiety and performance
* Somatic anxiety should decline once performance begins but cognitive anxiety may remain high if confidence is low
Catastrophe Theory (Hardy 1987) suggests:
* Stress and anxiety will influence Performance
* Each athlete will respond in a unique way to competitive anxiety
* Performance will be effected in a unique way which may be difficult to predict using general rules, because all athletes are different.
Optimum Arousal Theory
According to the Optimum Arousal Theory (Hanin 1997) each athlete will perform at their best if their level of arousal or competitive anxiety falls within their optimum functioning zone. The challenge for the coach is to determine the athlete’s zone and identify the techniques that will place the athlete in this zone prior to competition.
How to measure Anxiety
A range of psychometric tests or sport anxiety questionnaires (SAQ) have been used by sports psychologists to understand and measure this condition. Many argue that it was necessary to make a distinction between momentary states and more permanent traits.
* Anxiety states (A-state) is our response to a particular situation (i.e. sky diving)
* Anxiety traits (A-trait) are the characteristics of our personality, our general anxiety level
Marten (1990) developed anxiety traits (A-trait) questionnaires that were tailored specially to sport known as the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT). Marten recognized that any measure of sport anxiety must take into consideration cognitive anxiety (negative thoughts, worry) and somatic anxiety (physiological response). The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory or CSAI-2 takes into account the difference between A-state and A-trait and distinguishes between cognitive and somatic anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can be recognized on three levels:
* Cognitive – by particular thought process
* Somatic – by physical response
* Behavioural – by patterns of behavior
* Cognitive: Indecision, Sense of confusion, Feeling heavy, Negative thoughts, Poor concentration, Irritability, Fear, Forgetfulness, Loss of confidence, Images of failure, Defeatist self-talk, Feeling rushed, Feeling weak, Constant dissatisfaction, Unable to take instructions, Thoughts of avoidance
* Somatic: Increased blood pressure, Pounding heart, Increased respiration rate, Sweating, Clammy hands and feet, Butterflies in the stomach, Adrenaline surge, Dry mouth, Need to urinate, Muscular tension, Tightness in neck and shoulders, Trembling, Incessant talking, Blushing, Pacing up and down, Distorted vision, Twitching, Yawning, Voice distortion, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Loss of appetite, Sleeplessness, Loss of libido
* Behavioural : Biting fingernails, Lethargic movements, Inhibited posture, Playing safe, Going through the motions, Introversion, Uncharacteristic displays of extroversion, Fidgeting, Avoidance of eye contact, Covering face with hand
How to control Anxiety
As we can see anxiety includes state and trait dimensions both of which can show themselves as cognitive and somatic symptoms. An athlete with high anxiety trait (A-trait) is likely to be more anxious in stressful situations. To help the athlete control competitive anxiety somatic techniques (relaxation) and cognitive techniques (mental imagery) can be used.
The five breath technique
This exercise can be performed while you are standing up, lying down or sitting upright. You should inhale slowly, deeply and evenly through your nose, and exhale gently through your mouth as though flickering, but not extinguishing, the flame of a candle.
* Take a deep breath and allow your face and neck to relax as you breathe out
*Take a second deep breath and allow your shoulders and arms to relax as you breathe out
*Take a third deep breath and allow your chest, stomach and back to relax as you breathe out
*Take a fourth deep breath and allow your legs and feet to relax as you breathe out
*Take a fifth deep breath and allow your whole body to relax as you breathe out
*Continue to breathe deeply for as long as you need to, and each time you breathe out say the word ‘relax’ in your mind’s ear
Meditation can be used to attain quite a deep sense of relaxation and can be ideal for staying calm in between rounds of a competition. It can be mastered with just a few weeks’ practice and comprises of seven easy steps:
*Sit in a comfortable position and adopt a relaxed posture
*Pick a short focus word that has significant meaning for you and that you associate with relaxation (e.g. relax, smooth, calm, easy, float, etc.)
*Slowly close your eyes
*Relax all the muscles in your body
*Breathe smoothly and naturally, repeating the focus word
*Be passive so that if other thoughts enter your mind, dismiss them with, ‘Oh well’ and calmly return to the focus word – do not concern yourself with how the process is going
*Continue this for 10 to 15 minutes as required.
Again this may vary for every person because we are all different in our own right. I hope this helps as you take off in the respected sport of your choice. Remember only the strong survive! what people forget is that goes with the mental aspect too not just the pyshical. I appreciate your time guys
Isaac J. Hall II