Sports Coach Logo

website Translator

            topics

site search facility

 

 

 

 


Competitive Anxiety

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. Gallwey (2000)[8] explains the elements of interference that impact on performance.

  • Performance = Potential - Interference.

Anxiety - Performance Relationship Theory

Drive Theory

According to the Drive Theory (Zajonc 1965)[7] 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".

Inverted-U hypothesis

An alternative approach to Drive Theory is known as the Inverted-U hypothesis (Yerkes 1908)[2] 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)[3] is based on the distinction between cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety. 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

Catastrophe Theory (Hardy 1987)[6] suggests that:

  • 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

Optimum Arousal Theory

According to the Optimum Arousal Theory (Hanin 1997)[4] 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 do you measure Anxiety?

A range of psychometric tests or sport anxiety questionnaires (SAQ) have been used by sports psychologists to understand and measure this condition. Spielberger (1966)[5] argued 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)[3] developed anxiety traits (A-trait) questionnaires that were tailored specially to sport known as the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT). Marten (1990)[3] recognised 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 recognised on three levels (Karageorghis 2007)[1]:

  • Cognitive - by particular thought process
  • Somatic - by physical response
  • Behavioural - by patterns of behaviour
Cognitive
Somatic
Behavioural
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
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
Diarrhoea
Loss of appetite
Sleeplessness
Loss of libido
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 can we 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 (Karageorghis 2007)[1]:

  • 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

Benson's relaxation response

Benson's technique is a form of meditation that 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 (Karageorghis 2007)[1]:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and adopt a relaxed posture
  2. 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.)
  3. Slowly close your eyes
  4. Relax all the muscles in your body
  5. Breathe smoothly and naturally, repeating the focus word
  6. 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
  7. Continue this for 10 to 15 minutes as required.

Lisa Brown

Referenced Material

  1. KARAGEORGHIS, C.(2007) Competition anxiety needn't get you down. Peak Performance, 243, p. 4-7
  2. YERKES and DODSON (1908) The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of of Neurological Psychology, (1908)
  3. MARTENS, R. et al.(1990) The Development of the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2). Human Kinetics
  4. HANIN, Y.L. (1997) Emotions and athletic performance: individual zones of optimal functioning. European Year Book of sports psychology, 1, p. 29-72
  5. SPIELBERGER, C.D. (1966) Anxiety and behaviour. Academic Press, New York
  6. HARDY, L. and FRAZER, J. (1987) The Inverted U Hypothesis: A catastrophe for sport psychology? British Association of Sports Science, monograph no. 1, NCF, 1987
  7. ZAJONC, R.B. (1965) Social Facilitation. Science, 149 (1965), p. 268-274
  8. GALLWEY, W. (2000). The Inner Game of Work. New York: Random House

Associated References

  • MARTENS, R. et al. (1995) Competitive anxiety in sport. Human kinetics
  • JONESs, G. (1995) More than just a game: Research developments and issues in competitive anxiety in sport. British journal of psychology86 (4), p. 449-478

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2002) Competitive Anxiety [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/companx.htm [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: