Sport practitioners deal with a number of pressure triggers that can affect their athletes’ performance levels. Athletes are usually supported to shore up their weakness, train to decrease risks of injuries, and to build strength and power. But still, pressure can get to any athlete, more so if the athlete is not aware of what causes it.
There are two common pressure triggers include physical and mental symptoms.
1. Physical symptoms that can affect performance include:
- Nerves that lead to panic – Performers can start to think negatively as a result of nerves/panic. Negativity will unfortunately lead to poor performance levels.
- Feeling sick – It is possible that performers who become anxious will suffer from increased anxiety. Increased anxiety can lead performers to experiencing feelings of sickness that could lead to them throwing up.
- Butterflies – Some performers will also notice that they are suffering from somatic symptoms that make the stomach lining feel like acid.
- Muscle tension – Those performers that suffer from increased anxiety will invariably suffer from tension related to key muscle groups.
2. Mental symptoms that can affect performance include:
- Negative thoughts – One consequence of not dealing with pressure is that performers will start to think negatively.
- Poor focus/direction – Failing to deal with pressure will also lead performers’ levels of focus and direction being distracted.
- Poor concentration levels – Concentration levels are more difficult to maintain following an inability to manage pressure and can be a consequence of negative thinking.
- Self-doubt – Elevated self-doubt will affect performance levels that will lead to low confidence levels.
Although these symptoms will affect performance levels, it is suggested that practitioners identify strategies that support and increase performance levels. Moreover, all athletic trainers should be mindful with how stress and anxiety affect their athletes.
Many athletes struggle with stress and anxiety on a daily basis and each of them reacts to the stress and anxiety in a different way. Worrying about results, game conditions, and the opposing team can all contribute to the sense of pressure experienced by athletes.
Common strategies to support performance include:
- Positive self-talk – Performers who suffer from negative thoughts should be encouraged to replace these thoughts with positive thoughts. For example: ‘I can’t do this’, to ‘I will do this.’
- Deep breathing – One way to decrease muscle tension is to practise deep breathing as it enables the body to relax.
- Goal setting – Performers should set process- and performance-related goals to enable an increased focus and direction.
- Concentration – One way to increase concentration levels is to consistently practise skills to gain confidence. Practitioners are also advised to use a variety of strategies and techniques to support performers to increase concentration levels.
- Music – The source of music is useful. Individual differences need to be considered as music choice can vary. However, research has shown that music is useful to help the mind focus.
- Yoga – This strategy provides opportunities for the body to physically and mentally relax and focus.
- Imagery – a useful mental strategy that provides performers with an opportunity to focus their direction and intensity onto certain tasks in practise.
The strategies identified above are all useful provided that they are practised consistently to enable success. Hopefully these will help improve functional movement to support the physical demands of sport.
Gobinder Gill is a Lecturer in Further Education who teaches on Psychology and Research Methods.