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Sports Psychology - Performance Anxiety



The ability of the individual to control mental and emotional elements assists task performance as well as creating a psychological foundation for confidence and wellbeing (Boyd & Zenong, 1999). When the individual feels as though they possess a degree of self-mastery in relation to psycho-somatic function, this serves to motivate continued efforts in attempting to increase performance (Wuff & Toole, 1999). Every athlete trains so that when it’s show time they can try their best to perform brilliantly. Many athletes become “pumped up” before a competition, adrenaline starts rushing through their body and excitement kicks in. However this adrenaline is sometimes interpreted as anxiety and negative thoughts go through the athletes mind. This can have devastating effects on ability of performance.
Case Study
All athletes go through some mental letdown at some time throughout their sporting career.
With the help of a sport psychologist an athlete can learn how to overcome such letdowns.
Plan out a case study on an athlete who has approached you for help. Give the stated
scenario, diagnose the problem if there is one, discuss how you are going to go about
enhancing the athlete’s performance/ solving any problems using a specific intervention/s,
say why you have chosen this intervention (refer to theories and literature on the subject), and
discuss within a specific time frame. What do you hope to achieve?
Rebecca Xiberras (B. Psy)
Sports Psychology
Ms Adele Muscat B.Psy., MSc SES (Manch.)
University of Malta
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The ability of the individual to control mental and emotional elements assists task
performance as well as creating a psychological foundation for confidence and wellbeing
(Boyd & Zenong, 1999). When the individual feels as though they possess a degree of self-
mastery in relation to psycho-somatic function, this serves to motivate continued efforts in
attempting to increase performance (Wuff & Toole, 1999). Every athlete trains so that when
its show time they can try their best to perform brilliantly. Many athletes become “pumped
up” before a competition, adrenaline starts rushing through their body and excitement kicks
in. However this adrenaline is sometimes interpreted as anxiety and negative thoughts go
through the athletes mind. This can have devastating effects on ability of performance.
Many athletes know what it’s like to have a mental let down, to feel depressed because of
injuries, lacking motivation or loosing concentration. Anxiety and sports performance go
hand in hand. It is important that first you learn the relationship between the performance and
the anxiety and then learn how to manage the symptoms. Sports psychology focuses on
preparing the athlete mentally for the competition. With psychological skills training the
athletes learn to remain concentrated, control stress and limit the risk that one might let
mental issues overshadow physical performance. Most performers also know what it feels
like to be 'in the zone' where everything is perfect. Success and failure results from a
combination of physical eg. strength and speed and mental abilities eg. concentration and
confidence. However few athletes allot time to mental practice. Sport is at least 50% mental
with certain sports like tennis being 80-90% mental.
Serious athletes allot 10 or more hours a week to physical practice and little if any time to
mental practice. In most competitions, players win or lose depending on how they perform
that particular day. Physical ability being fairly equal, the winner is the one who has better
mental skills. (Muscat. A. Sport and Exercise Psychology)
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David is a 24 year old tennis player who has dedicated his life to his family and sports. He
works in a family run business of cars on weekdays and plays tennis on weekends. He trains
every day after work and goes to sleep as soon as he finishes working out to wake up early
for work the next day. He has recently contacted a sports psychology after discussing some
issues with his girlfriend.
David is complaining that even though he loves tennis and works very hard to be in a good
shape when a match is coming up, he has noticed that he does better when he is training alone
then when he does during matches. Tennis requires stamina and David has been walking or
jogging if he needs to go somewhere, however recently he keeps having thoughts that he will
get tired instantly when he is playing. Since David has a competition coming up and doesn’t
want his thoughts to effect his performance he decided to contact a sports psychologist to see
how he can control his emotions during performance. People that have anxiety of
performance are diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), this applies to public
speaking, musical and athletic performance. Anxiety is a negative emotion which involves
nervousness, worry and apprehension. Performance anxieties are like fire alarms. The key to
managing these performance anxieties is to disarm the fire alarms. By regulating your
emotional thermostat you hinder the need to defend against it in self-defeating ways. By
staying calm and you won’t have to deploy self-defeating strategies in search of calm.
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Assessment & Literature
Anxiety is composed of cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety and state anxiety. Cognitive
anxiety is when there is indecision, irritability, fear, loss of confidence, sense of confusion
and poor concentration among other things. This component has to do with thought
processes. The physical process for example is increased blood pressure, sweating, trembling,
dry mouth and clammy hand and feet; this is called somatic anxiety. The emotional state is
state anxiety. Anxiety can also be a trait where it is part of the personality to perceive non
dangerous situations as threatening.
What David is showing, as he describes his anxiety, is called the choking phenomena where
the athlete shows competence in practice but fails during a performance. This leads to
narrowed attention and slow information processing. The factors could be either internal like
feelings of loss of self-control or external like demands from team mates. During ‘chocking’
the athlete tends to focus attention on oneself, heightening arousal and increasing pressure.
The fact that David has an increase of arousal but has poor performance shows that the Drive
Theory is not applicable however based on David’s responses in the questionnaire it seems
that his performance depends on how he interprets the arousal. David mentions that he used
to get anxious before however with time it got worse, his interpretation of arousal resulted in
negative thoughts and anxiousness and this lead to a negative performance in the end. The
Reversal theory explains this.
This theory states that human experience is structurally organized into meta-motivational
domains, of which four have been identified. This theory has been developed by British
psychologist Dr Michael J. Apter. The theory has been researched, developed and applied
extensively. This theory explains how a person may reverse from psychological states, for
example a rollercoaster might seem exciting sometimes and terrifying other times.
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Not all athletes perform negatively under pressure; in fact some perform better under
pressure. Hans Selye calls it ‘eustress’; which means positive stress. Hanin’s Zones Of
Optimal Functioning (ZOF) states that top athletes have a zone of optimal state anxiety in
which best performance occurs. “The ZOF hypothesis (Hanin, 1986) proposes variation in
athletes’ individual zones of pre- competition state anxiety necessary for optimal
performance. Optimal performance is likely to occur when each athlete’s pre-competition
anxiety falls within his/her predetermined zone of optimal functioning.” (Davis & Cox, 2002)
David described how he gets sweaty hands and his blood pressure rises as he thinks about the
competition. He also mentioned he starts trembling which makes him think he will not serve
properly and that is exactly what happens every time he has these thoughts during a match.
These thoughts have an influence both on the physical and mental health of the athlete.
David said his performance got worse lately as he started having these thoughts more and
more often. The SCAT questionnaire developed by Martens et al. 1990 was used to calculate
his anxiety.
The test states that if you have less than 17 you have a low level of anxiety, 17 to 24 you have
an average level of anxiety and more than 24 you have a high level of anxiety. David scored
28 on his test resulting in a high level of anxiety. Research so far clearly indicates that it is
important for athletes to be able to control their anxiety if they are to produce peak
performances at important times. A large discrepancy between performance in practice and in
competition is indicative that the athlete is having a hard time achieving an appropriate level
of arousal or may be over aroused (Butler, 1996). Advances in anxiety reduction arena have
been applied to athletics. Research in the field has identified the strategies used by elite
performers to control their anxiety (Gould, Eckland, & Jackson, 1993; Jones & Hardy, 1990;
Orlick & Partington, 1988).
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One study used the cognitive-behavioral interventions in 7 weekly 2-hour group sessions.
The results show that in comparison to the no treatment control group, the treatment group
indicated decreases in anxiety (Holm, Beckwith, Ehde, & Tinius, 1996). In a study an
increase in self-confidence and decrease in cognitive and somatic anxiety was demonstrated
in a multiple baseline design, after a cognitive behavioural intervention (Savoy, 1997).
However, the improvement in self-confidence may have been due to the individualized nature
of the treatment provided. With the catastrophe model a theoretical framework has been
established for better understanding of anxiety in an athletic setting.
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Plan of Action
Eysneck’s theory of Hypervigilance says that the athlete that is anxious scans the
environment to detect a threat, they initially extract information from a broad area and then
they narrow their field. Once detected, anxious individuals are likely to spend more time
fixating on the source of threat than non-anxious individuals.
For David to overcome his anxiety there are a set of guidelines he could follow. He has to
keep his focus on the things he can control and remember the worst case scenario, to think
about the training practice situations and stay active.
One of the ways to recover is to develop a mental plan. To overcome his ‘choking’ David
needs to start to practice in game like situations, and improve his self- confidence and
develop performance routines. Practicing under game-like conditions is an extremely
important part of every practice. It can be boring unless the coaches keep it moving properly.
Putting David in situations and conditions he might face during a game makes it easier to face
it when it actually happens. Making sure the athlete is engaged in the learning process is
essential it’s important to make sure the athlete is listening. Freeze the athlete in places
occasionally and discuss where he should be, and why, if they're not in the right position.
(Date, J. ,1941). The initial difficulties related with implementing a mental skills training can
be eased by determining what the motivation behind the aim of increasing performance is.
Weinberg (1984) identified two distinct motivations underlying the desire for an athlete to
improve performance, these were, extrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic
rewards are those motivations that are external. These include the more material aspects of
competition, such as prizes, trophies, money and security, and also the more immaterial,
aspects of competitive events, such as recognition and respect from peers. Intrinsic
motivations are mainly concerned with the desire for self-development, and to challenge and
improve oneself. Weinberg (1984), Martens (1987) and Rushall (1992) emphasize that
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athletes should be encouraged to improve performance from an intrinsic perspective rather
than extrinsic motivation to help with attaining specific goals. Most mental skills techniques
can be divided into two; either cognitive or somatic methods. Cognitive methods include
mental rehearsal, mental imagery and visualization, visuo-motor behavior rehearsal, and
cognitive-behavior therapy. Somatic methods focus more on biofeedback, progressive muscle
relaxation and meditation.
Keeping the expectations realistic, putting the sport into perspective, avoiding pressure
statements and developing performance routines are all ways David could overcome his
The Performance Pyramid represents the relationship between nine skills that are needed for
enhancing performance. These nine skills are divided into three levels; Basic Skills,
Preparatory Skills and Performance Skills.
Lesyk (1998) states that the basic skills include the motivation, goals and commitment,
motivation and personal skills. These mental skills constitute a broad base for attaining long-
term goals, learning, and sustaining daily practice. They are needed on a day-by-day basis for
long periods of time, often months and years.
He continues to argue that the preparatory skills include imagery and self-talk. These skills
are used immediately before performance to prepare for performance. They may be used just
before competition begins, or immediately before a specific performance action, such as a
golf shot or a free throw in basketball or a serve in tennis.
Finally Lesyk also says that the performance skills are made up of concentration, managing
emotions and managing anxiety, these are used during actual performance behaviour.
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You don’t have to be an Olympic champion, have a room full of trophies or win a state
championship to be a good successful athlete. Successful athletes know that their sport is
important to them and they commit to being the best while keeping in mind their limitations,
their life commitments, finances, time and their natural ability. They keep realistic goals, high
enough to train and work hard for them. The more you gain experience and get insight into
your internal obstacles and obstructions to optimal performance, the greater will be your
ability to incorporate and hold down your anxieties. This will keep you from blurring
boundaries between inside and outside, past and present, expectations and possibilities.
Practice at home and then apply the same techniques during the match and your performance
will be enhanced. The ability to cope with pressure and anxiety is an integral part of sports,
particularly among elite athletes (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996; Orlick & Partington, 1988).
Researchers have reported that over 50 of consultations among athletes at an Olympic
festival were related to stress or anxiety related problems (Murphy, 1988) One must note that
although anxiety has a reasonable amount of impact on the performance, one must look at it
from a multidimensional perspective and consider the fact that there are other components
affecting the athlete’s functioning . The mental health model of Performance (Morgan, 1985)
does this by using the Profile of Mood States (McNair, Lorr, & Droppelman, 1971).
According to this model, peak performances are achieved by individuals who show a high
level of psychological well being and a low level of tension, anger, fatigue, and confusion.
This is typically called the iceberg profile and is one method of distinction between
successful and unsuccessful performers. Although some research has pointed out that this
profile cannot be used to differentiate between successful and non-successful athletes, Terry’s
meta analysis (1995) indicates that there is some validity to this profile if there homogeny in
ability and the sport they participated in. It is therefore necessary to consider all aspects of an
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individual's psychological functioning if sport psychology interventions are to have a
maximum impact.
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Apter, M. J. (1982). The Experience of Motivation: The theory of Psychological Reversal,
c Academic Press, London.
Griffin, L. L. (1996). Improving net/wall game performance. Journal of Physical Education,
Recreation & Dance, 67(2), 34-37.
Ferrauti, A., Pluim, B. M., & Weber, K. (2001). The effect of recovery duration on running
speed and stroke quality during intermittent training drills in elite tennis
players. Journal of sports sciences, 19(4), 235-242.
Lesyk.J.J (1998) The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes,
Ohio Center for Sport Psychology
Wedman, J., & Graham, S. W. (1998). Introducing the concept of performance support using
the performance pyramid. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 46(3), 8-20.
Tangen, S. (2004). Performance measurement: from philosophy to practice.International
Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 53(8), 726-737.
Jones, J., & Hardy, L. E. (1990). Stress and performance in sport.
John Wiley & Sons.
Adams, J. A. (1961). The second facet for forgetting: a review of warm-up
decrement. Psychological Bulletin, 58, 257-273.
Behncke.L. (2004) Volume6, Issue1, Athletic Insight
The online Journal for sports psychology
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Interference theory, though generally accepted as an adequate explanation of forgetting, may not be sufficient to account for all the data. An alternative position hypothesizes that warm-up is a 2nd part of forgetting independent of direct interference with the goal responses. Experimental studies of this 2-factor view are not sufficiently strong to warrant acceptance or rejection at this time. (79 ref.) From Psyc Abstracts 36:01:3CL57A. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Full-text available
The aim of this study was to assess the effect of the recovery duration in intermittent training drills on metabolism and coordination in sport games. Ten nationally ranked male tennis players (age 25.3+/-3.7 years, height 1.83+/-0.8 m, body mass 77.8+/-7.7 kg; mean +/- sx) participated in a passing-shot drill (baseline sprint with subsequent passing shot) that aimed to improve both starting speed and stroke quality (speed and precision). Time pressure for stroke preparation was individually adjusted by a ball-machine and corresponded to 80% of maximum running speed. In two trials (T10, T15) separated by 2 weeks, the players completed 30 strokes and sprints subdivided into 6 x 5 repetitions with a 1 min rest between series. The rest between each stroke-and-sprint lasted either 10 s (T10) or 15 s (T15). The sequence of both conditions was randomized between participants. Post-exercise blood lactate concentration was significantly elevated in T10 (9.04+/-3.06 vs 5.01+/-1.35 mmol x l(-1), P < 0.01). Running time for stroke preparation (1.405+/-0.044 vs 1.376+/-0.045 s, P < 0.05) and stroke speed (106+/-12 vs 114+/-8 km x h(-1), P < 0.05) were significantly decreased in T10, while stroke precision - that is, more target hits (P < 0.1) and fewer errors (P < 0.05) - tended to be higher. We conclude that running speed and stroke quality during intermittent tennis drills are highly dependent on the duration of recovery time. Optimization of training efficacy in sport games (e.g. combined improvement of conditional and technical skills) requires skilful fine-tuning of monitoring guidelines.
Even though remarkable progress has been made over recent years in the design of performance measurement frameworks and systems, many companies are still primarily relying on traditional financial performance measures. This paper presents an overview of the more common, more modern approaches to performance measurement and attempts to identify whether they have in fact addressed the limitations of traditional ways of measuring performance. The paper suggests that the modern frameworks have indeed addressed the underlying conceptual issues, but have rarely addressed the practicalities of measurement in ways that render them meaningful to practitioners. What is needed is further work to explore how these conceptual frameworks can be translated and tailored to fulfil the unique measurement needs of a specific company, especially at the operational level.
Organizations today face social, competitive, and technological conditions unlike they have seen before. Within this complex environment, managers and team leaders must get the highest levels of performance from a diverse mix of individuals and groups. Achieving this goal requires a range of performance support strategies and resources that can be applied to various situations. This paper outlines a comprehensive model of performance support that integrates a set of factors leading to optimal performance and significant accomplishments. Referred to as the Performance Pyramid, the model has been an effective means of introducing the notion of performance support to individuals unaccustomed to thinking outside of a training paradigm. Using this model, continuing educators can offer a comprehensive program that focuses on enhancing worker performance to address the needs of their business and agency partners.
The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes
  • . J Lesyk
Lesyk.J.J (1998) The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes, Ohio Center for Sport Psychology
Volume6, Issue1, Athletic Insight The online Journal for sports psychology
  • L Behncke
Behncke.L. (2004) Volume6, Issue1, Athletic Insight The online Journal for sports psychology