Competitive Stress

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What is competitive stress?

The negative emotional reaction of an athlete when he/she feels that his/her self-esteem is threatened during a competition. The threat comes from an imbalance between the environmental demands of competition and the athlete’s perception of his or her own ability to meet those demands successfully. The amount of stress depends on how important the consequences of failure are perceived by the athlete.

For example, a hockey player may face a situation where he/she needs to score a crucial shot to win a tournament for their team. If the player perceives the demands as exceeding his/her capabilities, the result is increased competitive stress.

This increase in stress can lead to anxiety, loss of confidence, tension and inability to concentrate. Luckily, there are many strategies and techniques athletes can learn to cope with their anxiety during a competition, which we will be discussing further.

Most competitive and elite athletes are frequently under extreme pressure to perform at peak levels day in and day out.

Expectations of self, parents, coaches, teammates, and friends can produce a host of detrimental effects on the athlete’s ability to focus on the relevant tasks in practice, training, and competition.

As parents and coaches, we think that our young athletes are impervious to stress and burnout, but it couldn't be further from the truth.

They know that we as parents and coaches don’t want to hear a negative story about their sport or that we are too hard on them. Most youngsters want to do everything they can to please us, even if that means suffering in silence, so talking about it would be a good option, letting them know how they can deal with the mental stress.

Here are a few of the strategies:

Problem-focused coping: involves strategies to manage or alter the problem that is causing stress through behaviors such as information gathering, goal setting, time management skills, and problem-solving. Problem-focused coping can also include what you do before the game to manage stress. Many athletes report that having a good warm-up/start and communication between their teammates helps them manage stress.

Emotion-focused coping: includes the strategies of regulating emotional responses resulting from a stressor through actions like meditation, relaxation, and cognitive efforts to change the meaning of the individual attached to the situation. The use of social support like encouragement from teammates or family may also help the athlete de-stress.

Avoidance coping: involves physically or mentally disengaging from the stressful situation. This is typically done by ignoring or blocking irrelevant distractions like parents, coaches, and fans.

Appraisal coping: involves efforts to modify the way you think. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values. Athletes may use positive self-talk, or mental images of past successes to cope with their anxiety.

It is important to note that dealing with competitive stress is a complex process for elite athletes that do not simply involve one coping style employed for all situations. Athletes will often use a combination of the above four strategies, which is why it is important to experiment with different methods of coping.

Identifying the strategies that work the best for you and getting to know yourself better will help you improve your performance and mental toughness.

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References:

Anshel, M. et al (2000). Coping style following acute stress in competitive sport. Journal of Social Psychology, 140 (6), 751–773

Gould, D., & Rolo, C. (2004) In C. D. Spielberger (ed.) Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology. (441–447), Academic Press.

Holt, N. L., & Hogg, J. M. (2002) Perceptions of stress and coping during preparations for the 1999 women’s soccer World Cup finals. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 251–271

Kristiansen, E., & Roberts, G. C. (2010). Young athletes and social support: Coping with competitive stress and organizational stress in “Olympic” competition. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20 (4), 686–696

www.oxfordreference.com — competitive stress

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