Stress is experienced when individuals feel they cannot cope with the situation they are presented. If an athlete is in a stressful situation, their athletic performance will be affected in competition or training. The coach can limit the effect on competitive anxiety by assisting the athlete in identifying an appropriate coping strategy.
Accessing and Managing Stress
Many aspects of an athlete's life can be stressful at certain times. It may arise because of work, study, sport or family/social life commitments. When responsibilities in many areas coincide, the effect can be stressful, resulting in compromised commitments or, worse case, their health being affected. As coaches, we must consider these areas when planning the athlete's annual training program. By planning, we can reduce the athlete's stress level and perhaps the coach will encounter it.
Events have a high priority, and tasks require a high degree of focus. Work with your athlete to assess each area (work, study, sport or family/social life) and identify those times in the year when the athlete will be busy. For each of these times, rate the level of stress for each area on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 is "low", 3 is "medium" and 5 is "high") that the athlete feels they could potentially be under. The information can then be plotted on a year planner to indicate where possible stressful times could occur, and the identification of stress-relieving strategies is required.
Key: A = Work .... B = Study .... C = Sport .... D = Family/Social
In the example table above: "A" is a project delivery, "B" is an exam, "C" is an indoor athletics championship meeting and "D" in week nine, a family holiday.
The stress levels around weeks 6 and 7 are accumulating, so priorities must be determined.
Tips to avoid stress
Aim to exercise regularly. Exercise dissipates the adrenaline that builds up in stressful situations and leaves us with a sense of achievement and control.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. People need varying amounts ranging from 5 or 6 hours to 10 hours a night. By trial and error, you will know how much sleep YOU need to perform at your best.
Learn to think clearly and set realistic goals and objectives. Work through one problem at a time in a logical way.
If you feel a panic or anxiety attack, think through the problem by breaking it down. Imagine the worst that can happen. Nine times out of ten, it then appears less severe.
Say NO to tasks and projects you cannot take on. People will not think any less of you. After all, they have not got ESP.
Remember that you are human, and mistakes are inevitable. Learn to view mistakes as learning opportunities and problems as challenges.
Practice positive visualisation. Think about a time or a place when you were relaxed and at peace. It could have been on a holiday or a day off. Try to recreate the situation again in your mind, thinking about the sights, sounds and smells you experienced. Visualise yourself back into the scene. You will feel much more relaxed after 5 to 10 minutes as your brain does not know the difference between imagining a situation and being there. Some people call it daydreaming, but a visualisation is a potent tool for reducing stress and anxiety.
Take time out for yourself. Ensure you are doing some things in your life because they are essential to you rather than because you ought to or should do them. You deserve to take a break occasionally and not feel guilty for enjoying it.
Accept your strengths and weakness and like yourself anyway. If you do not like yourself, you cannot expect anyone else to. Understand also that you cannot change anybody else - only yourself.
Practice physical relaxation techniques. Progressive relaxation contracting and relaxing all the body parts are very effective ways of reducing tension.
Sports Massage is an alternative method of helping relieve tension and relax you.
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