Management of Competition Stress

Jason Milsap
October 19, 2023
Management of Competition Stress

There are so many expectations set for athletes to take their performance to the next level. In addition to these external pressures, athletes tend to apply a lot of internal pressure on themselves as well. Whether it is ensuring they are minimizing errors, meeting performance goals, or making sure their team performs at a winning standard, athletes are constantly under stress, and because of this, it is extremely important for an athlete to know ways to manage that stress.

One way to manage stress is to first be aware of how physically and psychologically stimulated the athlete is in different aspects of their performance.

One way of monitoring this is by using a feedback form. Feedback forms can allow the athlete the opportunity to think about how much stress they felt the day of their performance, right before their performance, and during their performance. This offers coaches and athletes time to discuss and evaluate how stressed the athlete may feel at different times leading up to and during their performance. This is also important because if athletes become too stimulated, they can cause their bodies to encounter too much tension in their muscles which will alter their performance. This is a concept called double pull, or bracing. When athletes second guess themselves or are too worried about performing a skill correctly, they can compromise themselves by over-activating too many muscles.
To avoid this, the athlete would need to learn the right amount of contraction to perform the skill. This is called differential relaxation.

When an athlete is too overstimulated for competition, the coach would likely need to intervene and offer some restructuring approaches to help manage the stress that the athlete is experiencing. In these moments, it would be beneficial for the athlete and the coach to recognize these feelings and find ways to reduce the symptoms associated with the stress. A great example of this would be during an event when a coach pulls an athlete to the side and helps them focus on one play or lift at a time. This helps reduce their stress level because they become more aware of what is currently happening and how to manage and respond to what happens next. While the athlete may still be aroused by the excitement of competition, they are not allowing the stressors to take over and without knowing it, the athlete has now effectively taken the negative threat, or stressor, and turned it into positive action.

Another reduction stress management tip that could really benefit an athlete would be to focus on planning and setting goals. Performance feedback forms really allow athletes the chance to evaluate how they feel around competition and then they can take that information to set goals as a way of managing stress.

One good way of taking the information from a performance feedback form and turning it into a goal would be the use of a pre-competition plan. Pre-competition plans are composed of a sequence of process-oriented goals that provide a simple way to help the athlete focus on prioritizing information and key aspects of performance. In return, this helps the athlete physically and mentally prepare for their performance and will help them put together what they should focus on the day before, the day of, during warm-up, and in the game.

Two additional forms of stress management that can happen immediately when the athlete begins feeling stressed are diaphragmatic breathing and positive self-talk. When athletes breathe properly, it is relaxing and facilitates performance by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood and carrying more energy to the muscles. When athletes' breathing is corrected, they are usually less tense.Positive self-talk is the use of affirmations or words of motivation and encouragement that are repeated to oneself to help put things into a more positive perspective. Coupling these two strategies together can drastically reduce the affects of stress on the athlete and their performance results.

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