Anxiety and Competitive Sports

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When athletes prepare for a competition or performance, mental health is often neglected and not given a second thought. The athlete will condition their body, physically readying themselves to be pushed during competition. However, it might be worthwhile if athletes asked themselves how their mental health could affect their performance.

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Various studies have been conducted to observe the ways anxiety, in particular, can alter performance from practice to competitions. Anxiety may be reported by an athlete when they are unsure of whether they can handle situations contributing stress (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1995). Martens, et al (1990) contributed three subscales, used to describe athlete’s anxiety participating in various sports, onto the existing knowledge of anxiety and athletic performance. These three subscales include cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence, which all play a role in an athlete’s performance. This multidimensional anxiety theory suggests that cognitive anxiety will negatively effect performance if arousal is high, entailing a negative linear relation with performance (Hardy, et al., 1996). On the other hand, somatic anxiety displays a curvilinear relation and self-confidence has a positive linear relation with performance (Martens, et al., 1990).

A common questionnaire that was completed in various studies was the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2, 30 minutes to an hour before competition (Tsopani, Dallas, Skordilis, 2011). The Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 measures the intensity of symptoms which in turn can determine the presence of anxiety. When participants take this CSAI-2 they respond to 27 items rating each on a 4-point scale; using 1: not at all and 4: very much so (Martens, et al., 1990). A greater presence in these three subscales are indicated by higher scores. These results help to determine how an athlete feels concerning the competition at hand and how it may affect performance. Questioning how anxiety can affect an athlete during competitive play is important to improving their skills. Performance is not only determined by physical readiness, but also by an athlete’s mental state. It is hypothesized that athletes who contribute time towards their mental health will perform better. Additionally, those showing little symptoms of anxiety will perform better than those showing more.

Cognitive anxiety increases worry or doubt, threatening an athlete’s persuit and well-being. When cognitive anxiety is low is when an athlete will perform the best (Kais, Raudsepp, 2004). In the studies conducted and reported by Graham Jones (1992), Austin Swain (1992), Despoina Tsopani (2011), George Dallas (2011), Emmanouli K. Skordilis (2011), Kristjan Kais (2004) and Lennart Raudsepp (2004), each participant completed CSAI-2 30-60 min before the competition to measure cogenitive anxiety. This did not interfere with preparation routines for the players. The participants were than observed during the competitions looking for mistakes or accomplishment’s each player achieved (Tsopani, et al., 2011). This would later determine if the results from the CSAI-2 affected their performance. The test conducted by Jones and Swain (1992) separated the 69 subjects in two groups: high or low competitive subjects. They took athletes from various sports and compared their results. Using the results given by the participants from the CSAI-2, they determined how cognitive anxiety differed between the high and low competitive subjects. In result, the more competitive subjects reported their cognitive anxiety considerably more facilitative than the less competitive subjects, positively affecting their performance (Jones, Swain, 1992). In the study conducted by Tsopani, et al., where 86 young gymnasts were observed, the results contradicted those of Jones & Swain (1992). It was shown that highly competitive athletes were lower on cognitive anxiety. Additionally, Kais & Raudsepp (2004) found that their 66 participants performed more effectively when they perceived their cognitive anxiety as facilitative. Thus, Jones & Swain (1992) and Kais & Raudsepp (2004) both found the athletes to perform better because of their perceptions on their cognitive anxiety, although cognitive anxiety had no real affect on performance.

In comparison, somatic anxiety refers to the physical symptoms of anxiety in athletes, including increased heart rate, butterflies, elevated blood pressure, and more (Kais & Raudsepp, 2004). Alongside cognitive anxiety, there was no statistically significant difference between cognitive and somatic anxiety. Athletes rated and perceived these two similar to one another.

Self-confidence is known as the feeling of trust in one’s ability to execute a task efficiently and effectively. This aspect of the multidimensional model played a significant role on how athletes performed. The way they perceived them selves in the way they played affected their performance. Jones & Swain (1992) found that the highly competitive group found their self-confidence more facilitating than the low competitive group, greatly affecting performance. Tsopani, et al. (2011) stated that the only statistically significant aspect proved to be self-confidence. Female gymnasts with higher self-confidence performed higher. Reports also showed that gymnasts with lower self-confidence showed signs of shaky stances, and unbalanced performances. Furthermore, Kais & Raudsepp (2004) reported results suggesting self-confidence as a construct that can greatly influence performance above affects by cognitive or somatic anxiety.

There were several limitations regarding each study conducted. Jones & Swain (1992) and Tsopani et al. (2011) gathered subjects that participated in the same sport at the same level while Kais & Raudsepp (2004) studied athletes from varying sports. This may cause a discrepancy when comparing the athlete’s anxiety and self-confidence due to the different sports. These sports may not entail the same guidelines and rules athletes are to follow. Alongside this, Tsopani et al. (2011) only examined gymnasts aged 11-12, not offering results from older and more experienced athletes. Lastly, in all three reports, the intensity of anxiety was not taken during or after the competition. This eliminates the opportunity to assess anxiety and its affect in all stages of mental performance. Taking in results from all stages of the competition may offer an improvement to predicting anxieties influence.

The findings of these studies support the idea that athlete’s perceptions of their own anxiety offer an understanding of competitive state-anxiety. Even though the symptoms of anxiety may not affect athletes negatively does not excuse its affects in a positive aspect. These affects may even be necessary for a positive affect on performance. Although, what may be perceived as positive anxiety could be merely the states of excitement, arousal, or motivation. Additionally, self-confidence directly correlates with an athlete’s performance during competition. The research included all showed signs that participants who perceived themselves with higher self-confidence performed better than those in a low competitive group. Furthermore, coaches and athletes should take focus on their perceptions of anxiety and self-confidence to improve their readiness for competition.

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