How can anxiety affect performance?

There are many theories and models that explain anxiety in a sporting performance, an early theory implied was the inverted-U theory. Yerkes & Dodson (1908) theory states that anxiety’s relationship with performance is similar to the inverted-U shaped continuum, low level of anxiety leads to a decrease in performance and an increase in anxiety means a more optimal performance. Nevertheless, if anxiety exceeds beyond the point of optimal performance then there will be a decline seen in the athlete’s performance, Yerkes & Dodson (1908) theory didn’t take into account that each athlete is different and that the optimum level of arousal maybe lower or higher for different individuals. Another approach was put forward that looked at a more directional perception this theory was by Jones (1995). Jones states that anxiety can be perceived as both harmful (debilitative) or favourable (facilitative) by the athlete; if the athlete can cope with anxiety then it is seen as facilitative however, if they struggle it is seen as debilitative. An example of this is two football players in a penalty shootout might experience the same level of anxiety however they may interpret this level of anxiety differently. Some athletes have higher levels of anxiety compared to the average athlete these athletes are said to focus on the wrong stimuli, by doing this the athlete will be more focused on external factors like the crowd or the opposition rather than the current task they might have to complete like a game winning freekick. If anxiety increases and becomes too much for the athlete, then they are seen to deteriorate and disregard current skills learnt and focus on a past skill level (Grossbard et al. 2009; Pijpers et al. 2003); a goalkeeper who recently learnt to catch the ball from corners will decided to punch the ball away in an important game due to an increased level of anxiety therefore focusing on a previous skill.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a psychological reaction that includes emotions such as fear and negative thoughts as well as physiological responses that include sweating, not sleeping and feeling tense. A definition of Anxiety is an individual’s tendency to perceive situations as threatening and respond with an increase in a state or trait anxiety (Encel, Mesagno, & Brown, 2017). Another definition that relates to a sporting context is that Anxiety is a common emotional state that has an effect on all athletes no matter the level of their performance (Arvinen-barrow, 2017). The most common way to test an athlete’s levels of anxiety is the CSAI-2 created by (Edward and Hardy 1996); this psychometric test that looks at: somatic anxiety, cognitive anxiety, trait and state anxiety. These four components are considered the important areas that define anxiety, each athlete will be individually difference in each area depending on their levels of anxiety before, during and after competition (Arvinen-barrow, 2017). Lundqvist et al (2011) defined cognitive anxiety as worrying thoughts these include things like whether an athlete perceives that they have the ability to be able cope with a situation that is being presented to them. An example of this is a young player playing in the first team they might not believe they have the ability to cope playing with the first team. Lotfi, Tahmasebi, & Rabavi (2016)defined somatic anxiety as oneself perception of physiological arousal, for example a golfer who must put to win, they are most likely to experience sweaty hands and an increased heart due to an increase in somatic anxiety. Alongside both cognitive and somatic anxiety there is trait (personality) and state (situational) anxiety, state anxiety is considered short term anxiety that is in response to a perceived threat, such as anxiety prior to walking out onto the pitch. Trait anxiety is individual differences in responding to an anxious situation, which means producing an arousal response. This could be an athlete that is seen to have a higher level of trait anxiety, this means that they more likely to be aroused in certain situations when compared to an athlete with lower trait anxiety. Anxiety is not necessarily a negative for an athlete as each athlete has a preferred level of anxiety that allows them to reach optimal performance (Pijpers et al. 2003). If athletes accept that anxiety is a normal psychological reaction then the athlete will be more aware of the effect and less likely to allow anxiety affect their performance (Arvinen-barrow, 2017). This point is supported by Jones (1995) who stated that it is key for every athlete to understand what anxiety is as well as helping them understand that anxiety isn’t always a negative response to a stimulus.

Strategies used to help anxiety

Arvinen-barrow (2017)stated that sport has the potential for high levels of anxiety and that practicing and employing a range of psychological strategies can be beneficial in anxiety management. Depending on the athlete different interventions can have different affects, most interventions provide athletes an ability to manage their cognitive responses, debilitative emotional responses and physiological symptoms, some of these interventions include goal setting, imagery, relaxation strategies and self-talk (Arvinen-barrow, 2017). Self-talk has seen to be beneficial in many sports (McPherson,2000; Hatzigeorgiadis & Biddle, 2006) both looked at self-talk within many sports finding positive correlations between using self-talk and sport. Self-talk is considered to benefit an athletes cognitive control, this is done by reducing internal negative stimuli thoughts so that the athlete can regain focus by using a verbal cue (Hatzigeorgiadis & Biddle, 2006), i.e. head up or touch, pass, move for a football player who keeps giving the ball away when it’s passed to them. It is suggested by Johnson (2004) that the verbal cues should be brief, simple and personal to the athlete to increase the effectiveness of the cue regaining the attention of the athlete so that they can concentrate on a positive stimulus. Lotfi et al., (2016)investigated motivational self-talk and instructional self-talk on a football shooting task, they found that both types of self-talk significantly improved the participants when performing on the football shooting task. Both (Chang et al, 2014; Hardy et al, 2005) supported the above findings on the other hand, Tsiggilis et al (2003) found that self-talk didn’t have a significant effect on the football task implemented. The above findings were reviewed by Lotfi et al., 2016 who cited (Tsiggilis et al 2003)concluding that these findings could be due to the level of participants they used as well as individual differences stating that at a higher level athletes might disregard new techniques as they already have psychological techniques they use. In conclusion self-talk can be seen as an effective tool to use when helping athletes address anxiety.

ReferencesShow all

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