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How not to make your athletes anxious

Isabel Walker reviews research conducted on the relationship between coaching behaviour and athlete anxiety

A bit of nervousness may enhance performance, but sustained anxiety can have adverse effects, slowing down reaction times and reducing responsiveness to cues. How can coaches help their athletes to keep nerves in check? Baker et al. (2000)[1] studied the relationship between coaching behaviour and anxiety in 228 young athletes from 15 sports, using two very detailed questionnaires - the Sport Anxiety Scale (SAS) and the Coaching Behaviour Scale for Sport (CBS-S). The CBS-S is a 44-item scale, which examines the frequency of seven coaching behaviours. It examines:

  • Physical training and planning - including structured workouts and an annual training plan
  • Goal setting
  • Mental preparation - including advice on staying positive and focused
  • Technical skills - including the use of positive reinforcement and feedback
  • Personal rapport - including developing a sense of trust and confidentiality
  • Negative personal rapport - including shouting and the use of fear and intimidation
  • Competition strategies - including ensuring needs are met at competition sites and maintaining consistency during competition

The athletes' perceived frequencies of exposure to these modes of behaviour were related to their experience of four forms of anxiety in sports situations: total anxiety, somatic (physiological) anxiety, cognitive (psychological) anxiety, and concentration disruption. The analysis showed that the first five of the coaching behaviours mentioned above - physical training and planning, goal setting, mental preparation, technical skills, and personal rapport - were not significant positive or negative predictors of any form of sports anxiety. However, competition strategies were significant negative predictors of three of the four forms of anxiety (excepting somatic anxiety), in that anxiety was found to increase as competition strategy behaviour decreased.

This finding supports previous research indicating that the coach plays an important role in a competition. But the strongest relationship found in the study was between negative personal rapport behaviours and anxiety. Negative personal rapport was a significant and positive predictor for all four forms of anxiety - i.e. as negative behaviour increases, so do all measured forms of sports anxiety. "The practical application of these results suggest", say the researchers, "that coaches should consider the impact that their behaviours have on anxiety levels in their athletes."

A greater understanding of the mechanisms that influence anxiety in athletes could facilitate the development of more effective coaching methods. This study indicates that the coach plays a vital role in influencing the sports anxiety felt by their athletes. By recognising the influence of the coach on athlete anxiety, strategies and interventions can be created, which may decrease negative outcomes such as anxiety and drop out, while increasing positive outcomes such as satisfaction and enjoyment.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • WALKER, I. (2003) How not to make your athletes anxious. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 5 / September), p. 3


  • BAKER, J. et al. (2000) The relationship between coaching behaviours and sport anxiety in athletes. J Sci Med Sport, 3 (2), p. 110-119

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, I. (2003) How not to make your athletes anxious [WWW] Available from: [Accessed