Stress is experienced when an individual feels that they cannot cope with a situation with which they are presented. If an athlete is in a stressful situation then their athletic performance, whether this be in competition or in training, will be effected. The coach can limit the effect on performance of competitive anxiety by assisting the athlete to identify an appropriate coping strategy.
Accessing and Managing Stress
There are many aspects of an athlete's life that can be stressful at certain times. This may arise because of commitments in the areas of work, study, sport or family/social life. When commitments in a number of areas coincide then the effect can be stressful which may result in commitments being compromised or in worse case situation their health being affected. As a coach, we need to consider these areas when planning the annual training program with the athlete. By planning we can reduce the level of stress that the athlete and perhaps the coach will encounter.
Work with your athlete to assess each of the areas (work, study, sport or family/social life) and identify those times in the year where the athlete will be busy, events have a high priority and tasks that will require a high degree of focus. 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 he/she could potentially be under. The information can then be plotted on a year planner to provide an indication where potential stressful times could occur and the identification of stress relieving strategies are required.
Key: A = Work .... B = Study .... C = Sport .... D = Family/Social
In the example table above: "A" is a project delivery, "B" an exam, "C" an indoor athletics championships meeting and "D" in week 9 a family holiday.
The stress levels around weeks 6 and 7 are accumulating so priorities will need to be determined.
Tips to avoid stress
Aim to exercise regularly. Exercise dissipates the adrenaline that builds up in stressful situations and leaves us feeling 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 yourself realistic goals and objectives. Work through one problem at a time in a logical way.
If you feel a panic or anxiety attack coming on, think through the problem by breaking it down. Imagine the worst that can happen. Nine times out of ten, it then appears less serious.
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 find that after 5 to 10 minutes you feel much more relaxed as your brain does not know the difference between imagining a situation and actually being there. Some people call it day dreaming but visualisation is a very powerful tool in reducing stress and anxiety.
Take time out for yourself. Make sure you are doing some things in your life because they are important to you, rather than because you ought to or should do. You deserve to take a break occasionally, do not feel guilty enjoy 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 is a very effective way of reducing tension.
Sports Massage is an alternative method of helping to relieve tension and to relax you.
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