Every range and level of sport demands correct and functional management in order to achieve a positive success rate. All athlete’s strive for excellence, where they will face stressors such as difficult relationships between coaches-athletes, injuries, difficult opponents and the scrutiny of media along the way (Nicholls A. R., Polman, R., Levy A. R., Taylor, J., & Cobley. S., 2007 as cited in Crocker, P., R, Tamminen, K.A., & Gaudreau, P. 2015). The process of pursuing excellence naturally comes with a range of barriers all athlete’s need to incorporate into their lifestyle in order to achieve. When an athlete fails to overcome or face any barrier, the standard of the individual is lowered and they are faced with the widely researched area of ‘choking under pressure’, which is a feared phenomenon by all. Understanding the various areas of pressure athlete’s face within sport fall under the category of mental toughness which has been widely researched through numerous articles and psychologists, but still remains to be not very well understood. In sport psychology it is described as ‘the term that is least understood, but is most used’ (Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. 2002).
Each stressor is different and can affect an athlete in different ways, dependant on the situation. Injuries are the most common stressor within sport, across all levels, from spraining an ankle to tearing the anterior crucial ligament (ACL) or breaking a bone. ACL injuries are unfortunately currently the most frequent injuries athlete’s are obtaining, affecting 4 to 6 more females than males. There has been an increase in the amount of serious injuries which athlete’s have been affected from, and regardless of the injury severity it can be difficult to an athlete knowing they are off the field for a certain period of time. After a long rehab process, previous and existing literature show athlete’s are concerned about re-injuring themselves whilst returning back from initial injury, (Rotella, 1985; Crossman, 1997 as cited in., Podlog, L. & Eklund, R.C., 2006) and found reports of fears of being able to perform at the same standard as before injury. Although an athlete may be physically ready to return to training and competitive situations, this doesn’t mean they are necessarily ready psychologically. By being psychologically ready to participate back into the sport, means the athlete is able to compete fully focused on the training or game with no additional worries.
As briefly previously mentioned, there could be a difficult relationship between a coach-athlete which generally comes with playing at an elite level. It is important to have a good relationship, this allows both the coach and athlete to focus on performances and the overall job at hand. Building a strong relationship between coaches and athlete’s starts from the key developmental years (ages 8-16), where coaches are not just working with the athlete, but the parents too. Enhancing the programmes success focuses on good relationships with parents, whilst if relationships are poor, this will destroy it (Hellstedt, C.R. 1987). Although the participation in sport could be due to intrinsic or extrinsic factors, athlete’s all portray passion toward the sport or they wouldn’t put as much time, effort or money into it. Proven by Mageau, G.A., Vallerand, R.J., Rousseau, F.L., Ratelle, C.F., & Provencher, P.J., (2005 as cited in Lafreniere, M.K., Jowett, S., Vallerand, R.J., Donahue, E.G., & Lorimer, R. 2008) engagement in activity is positively inflicted of positive emotions through the passion from the athlete. This fact leading to high-quality relationships developing through the positive emotions such as engaging and connecting with others, and smiling contribute indirectly to the overall outcome (Aron, A., Norman, C.C., Aron, E.N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R.E. 2000). Ensuring positive emotions are used, enhances the quality of relationships. By having better relationships it allows a more comfortable and relaxed environment, when professional athlete’s and managers are relaxed and their processes become automatic. This is supported by Paul Fitts, (1954) who claims that a high level of automaticity is possessed by experts.
Whether an athlete is performing at a standard level, higher than expected or lower than expected, unfortunately they will always be analysed and critiqued by any individual watching and scrutinised by the media. Media is powerful, as to considerably impact the countries condition, sport programmes are portrayed as mass media to improve and develop (Moradi, M., Honari, H., Naghshbandi, S., & Jabari, N, 2012). It is important that whilst posting on any form of social media, you are positive, all posts must come from the owner of the website, most commonly wrote as ‘all views are my own’ and others are not publicly criticised by yourself. This component is vital, if media is followed in the correct manner, it will prevent adolescents and youth following an ‘unhealthy recreation’ (Moradi, M., et al, 2012). By using the media correctly, it allows publicity for all events to be shared globally which enhances viewers whether that being at the event or watching on the television/online.
So, if pressure will always be a part of an athlete’s life, how do you overcome and deal with it? The key to dealing with pressure is defined by two vital components athlete’s need to use; self-belief and focus. Focusing on the success of sport, performers need to keep out certain factors that could be detrimental to the overall goal, mentally tough performers are known to have this attribute (Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. 2007). Other important sub factors include; staying focused, using goals as a form of motivation and controlling the environment. Competitions change all of the time alongside the affecting factors and athlete’s have to be mentally strong that if change happens, they need to take it in their stride and still be able to perform optimally. Even when feelings are high and performance anxiety levels start to rise, performers need to channel this energy and turn it into a positive focus. All of these attributes contribute to creating an ideal mentally tough athlete who is able to perform to the maximum level at all times, no matter what the given situation. Using these attributes, the last stage is to plan a training programme which incorporates using the main areas to get the athlete used to performing that way to make competitions an automatic process.