Competitive Anxiety: Competition can cause athletes to react both physically (somatic) and mentally (cognitive) in a manner which can negatively affect their performance abilities

Stress, arousal and anxiety are terms used to describe this condition. The major problem in competition is letting your mind work against you rather than for you. You must accept anxiety symptoms as part and parcel of the competition experience; only then will anxiety begin to facilitate your performance.

Anxiety: Performance Relationship Theories

Drive Theory

According to the Drive Theory (Clark Hull 1943) if an athlete is appropriately skilled then it will help them to perform well if their drive to compete is aroused - they are "psyched up".

 

Inverted-U hypothesis

An alternative approach to Drive Theory is known as the Inverted-U hypothesis that predicts a relationship between arousal and performance approximates to an inverted U shape. The theory is that as arousal is increased then performance improves but only up to a certain point (top of the inverted U). If the athlete's arousal is increased beyond this point then performance diminishes.

Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory

Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory is based on the distinction between cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety.

 

The theory makes a series of predictions:

* There will be a negative but linear relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance

* There will be an inverted U relationship between somatic anxiety and performance

* Somatic anxiety should decline once performance begins but cognitive anxiety may remain high if confidence is low

Catastrophe Theory Catastrophe Theory suggests that:

* stress and anxiety will influence performance

* each athlete will respond in a unique way to competitive anxiety

* performance will be effected in a unique way which may be difficult to predict using general rules

Optimum Arousal Theory

According to the Optimum Arousal Theory (Yuri Hanin) each athlete will perform at their best if their level of arousal or competitive anxiety falls within their optimum functioning zone. The challenge for the coach is to determine the athlete's zone and identify the techniques that will place the athlete in this zone prior to competition.

How do you measure Anxiety?

A range of psychometric tests or sport anxiety questionnaires (SAQ) have been used by sports psychologists to understand and measure this condition. In 1966 Charles Spielberger argued that it was necessary to make a distinction between momentary states and more permanent traits.

* Anxiety states (A-state) is our response to a particular situation (i.e. sky diving)

* Anxiety traits (A-trait) are the characteristics of our personality, our general anxiety level Marten developed anxiety traits (A-trait) questionnaires that were tailored specially to sport known as the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT). Marten recognised that any measure of sport anxiety must take into consideration cognitive anxiety (negative thoughts, worry) and somatic anxiety (physiological response). The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory or CSAI-2 takes into account the difference between A-state and A-trait and distinguishes between cognitive and somatic anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety Anxiety can be recognised on three levels:

* Cognitive - by particular thought process Cognitive Indecision Sense of confusion Feeling heavy Negative thoughts Poor concentration Irritability Fear Forgetfulness Loss of confidence Images of failure Defeatist self-talk Feeling rushed Feeling weak Constant dissatisfaction Unable to take instructions Thoughts of avoidance

* Somatic - by physical response Increased blood pressure Pounding heart Increased respiration rate Sweating Clammy hands and feet Butterflies in the stomach Adrenaline surge Dry mouth Need to urinate Muscular tension Tightness in neck and shoulders Trembling Incessant talking Blushing Pacing up and down Distorted vision Twitching Yawning Voice distortion Nausea Vomiting Diarrhoea Loss of appetite Sleeplessness Loss of libido

* Behavioural - by patterns of behaviour Biting fingernails Lethargic movements Inhibited posture Playing safe Going through the motions Introversion Uncharacteristic displays of extroversion Fidgeting Avoidance of eye contact Covering face with hand

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