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Different Effects of Stress on Sports Performance

Stress and Sports Performance

Sport athletes are often placed under stress for being the focal point of many things. Sports require an immense amount of effort from all the people involved in it, including training, public appearances, etc. sports personnel do not always have time to rest and that adds to their stress in many cases. To understand what stress does to sports personal, it is important to understand the definition of two terms, the sports psychology term and the definition of stress term. Sports psychology is a new field in the sports management field. Recently, this field has been gaining a lot of attention from sports personnel. Sports psychologists can help sport athletes by teaching them skill that can increase their productivity and help them cope with the competitive pressure that they face inside the field. Also they can help them become aware of their own reactions when dealing with a stressful event. Sometime good efficient coaches try to learn how to deal with their players psychological, and that helps him/her manage the players inside the field both emotionally and physically and sometimes even prevents injury inside the field.

Stress As a Problem for Athletes:

The biggest problem that faces many sport athletes is stress, which can be defined as something closely related to sports psychology. It is one of the various factors that a psychologist has to deal with. Selye (1956) defines stress as the basic response that the body gets from any sort of demand made on it. A “demand,” means in general any event, activity or reaction that stimulates stress within a person. Some stress factors are external like the stress of being watched by many spectators in a stadium and some factors are internal like the psychological stress a sports personal face when coming back to the field after an injury. (Selye, 1956). Stress in general is something that is not specified for only sport athletes. A normal office lady can be stressed from various factors around her same as a sport athlete can. However, sport athletes performance tend to get affected because of the stress they face and that is the main reason why identifying signs of stress is very important to them. Since stress has internal and external factors. External factors are generally called "stressors," and a person's reaction to an external factor is called "stress".

Sport Athletes' Reactions to Stress:

Reactions to both internal and external stress varies according to the person. There are about 67 different reactions that describe how people deal with stress. according to researchers These different 67 reactions stimulates from a person`s inability to deal with a certain subject in a way he feels appropriate. Stress from a failed performance on the field or very stupid mistakes are usually the main bases of sports stress. When a person is unable to deal with a certain situation in a way that satisfies them they get stress and that stress produces different types of reactions. People produce different reactions to cope with stress. Some of those coping reactions succeed sometimes while others fail. Stress Reactions can usually be divided into three types: behavioral, physiological and cognitive.

1- Behavioral Stress Reaction:

It is when a person reacts randomly to something, it`s usually a combination of random behavior and tremors accompanied by hyperactivity (Lazarus, 1974). For sport athletes, Sometimes it is accompanied by a certain increase in muscle activity and an increase in speed, especially during matches, when one team is on the losing side sometime some players tend to work faster during the end of the match only because the stress that arises from the probability of losing is what moves them.

2- The Cognitive Stress Reaction:

Cognitive reactions often make a certain task seems impossible to work on for a person and so it minimizes an individual’s coping abilities with stress. When applied on sports performances, cognitive stress reactions usually happen when a team resigns to its fate of losing. In this case, as stress increases the performance level within a match decreases. Cognitive reactions are usually reactions that produce failures unlike behavioral reactions which sometimes prove to be efficient in the work field.

3- The Physiological Stress Reaction:

It is a reaction that happens inside the body and can mostly be felt by the person himself before appearing on a person`s face. It involves an increased heart rate, an increased respiration rate, and an increased amount of muscle tension as the main pointers of the stress reaction. (Lazarus, 1974). It can also involve an increased amount of sweat gland activity and increased blood pressure. A person experiencing a psychological stress reaction tends to feel coldness inside his body and his hands stay cold even in warm weather. The reason for the coldness that people experience when put under stress is probably the fact that blood is kept away from the extremities and it is even pushed away from the part of the brain that involves problem solving skills towards a part of the brain that usually deals with the muscles.

Studies about Stress and Sports Performance:

When psychological stress happens to a sport athlete inside a game or a match it usually makes the athlete pressured and his ability to handle situations decrease. Also when it happens to an athlete who is not trained on how to manage his stress and identify it. Psychological stress can become a very dangerous thing on the sport athlete. The increased heart rate accompanied by the already increased rate that results from running and the exhaustion of the match, can in fact cause a lot of problems.

When a person experiences a stress reaction, he most likely experiences a mix of all the previous reactions together. However one type of reaction is felt more than others. A person could feel his psychological reaction more than the others or he could be accustomed more too behavioral and cognitive reactions. Whatever it is training to identify the type of stress and how to deal with it is very important for any person. Normal people or sport athletes both face hardships in their life and both are bound to experience stress one way or another. Coping strategies can be formed once stress signs are identified and with sufficient training athletes can learn to deal with stress on their own in the future.

Psychological reaction being the most dangerous reaction to an athlete must be measured and dealt with adequately to ensure a safe performance for the sport athlete. To measure physiological reactions to stress, certain procedures have proved to be usefully and thus have been mostly used. Firstly, when it comes to the increased reaction of the nervous system, researchers have found a large variety of Stress and Cognition peripheral response measures, some of which include increased respiratory rate, and inhibition of digestive functions. Those reactions are probably the same reaction a person produces when put under a lie detector test. Although peripheral responses can be controlled cognitively, people do not normally have to attend to peripheral responses when focused on a certain task (Lazarus, 1974). Because of that peripheral responses so far have been connected to other stress indicators.

People who see stressful situations as challenges normally show a type of reaction that consists of high cardiovascular activity accompanied by vascular resistance. On the other hand people who see the same type of events as a threat that they cannot handle, show low to moderate cardiac activity and a considerably high vascular resistance. Researches discussed the psychological effect of an increased workload in a simulator. Different reactions appeared from their experiment, reactions that include heart read, respiratory parameters etc. all showed a big difference between periods of rest and periods of actions. Heart rate increased along with a small increase in breathing, similarly the mount of blinking increased as the workload increased and finally, brain activity increased in the part that is related to muscle activities and decreased in the problem solving partition of the brain.

Internal and External Stress:

As mentioned before, stress is something that sport athletes deal with and since it can be divided into internal and external. It has both internal and external causes that could result into an athlete’s failure and affect his performance. Internal causes, Include injury, illness, psychological factors, sleep deprivation and the athlete himself wanting everything to be perfect (being a perfectionist) . External causes include, bad environment surrounding the sport athlete, negative social experience, bad life events, and everyday burdens. Other causes include occupational causes and personal causes. Occupational causes include working out of contract, being unsatisfied with the pay or the role in the team, getting into conflicts with the coach of the team and finally falling into misunderstanding with team members. Personal causes, on the other hand, include family problems, financial problems and bad lifestyle that influence the sport athlete’s performance on the field.

Effect of Stress on Sports Performance:

Effect #1- The Fear of Doing a Mistake:

When an athlete comes up with a very inadequate solution in an important situation inside the field, his stress increases because his stress gets accompanies by different forms of anxiety and worries. He worries that his mistake might cost him the match or he worries that his teammates will blame him. Not matter what worries add to the stress level of a person and so a person`s performance decreases when he get worried. Stress affects sport athletes generally in a bad way, except for very few people who use stressful situations as a motivation for themselves to work harder, stress generally affects people badly.

Effect #2- Distraction and No Attention:

Stress interferes with people`s attention, which normally affects the visual ability of a person and that results in a very terrible performance for the athlete. When attention decrease so does an athlete’s performance and so stress affects a sport athlete negatively. It can also affect a person`s memory, an athlete inside a match can normally put things together faster than normal however when stressed the problem solving abilities of a person decreases as a result his ability to peace what is happening around him with the information he has stored inside his brain decr5eases and so fast reactions decrease. Since stress affects pain capacity it can easily affect the decision making process inside people.

Effect #3- Negative Physical Effects:

Psychological effects always result in physical effects. The previously mentioned results of psychological stress are usually not only because of psychological stress but sometimes they are because stress has affected a person even physically. Stress can sometimes especially in sport athletes are accompanies by muscle tension and that of course affects the motor skills of an athlete and affects his performance. It can also be accompanied by sleep deprivation. When an athlete makes a mistake in a match stress can make them stay awake to contemplate what happened and of course if they have any other matches later on that will affect their performance negatively too.

How To Manage Stress During Sports:

In order to avoid all the negative aspects of stress and all the negative reactions it does on others, athletes' need to be trained on how to identify stress reactions and how to deal with them. Identify stress reactions are really important for an athlete specially if they want to keep their performance at top level all the time. To identify stress a sport athlete has to notice the changes that happen inside his body when a stressful situation happens (Example: A game, a competition, a certain test of strength or even an important public appearance). When a situation happens an athlete has to notice how his body reacts specifically and reports any changes to either his psychologist or his coach. Hence, athletes should be aware of the different changes that could happen to him or her during exercising. These changes could include for example:

A. Muscle tightening, Jaw that clenches and shoulders that stiffens.

B. Short and fast breaths, nausea or getting a weird feeling in the stomach.

C. Dry throat, increased sweating, cold hands and increased physical activities.

Managing stress can be done in two ways; the first one is by focusing on decreasing the stress placed on the person so changing the situation one way or another. This approach if applied to sports it means that dealing with stress can come by changing a player’s position to give them rest or a place to breathe in. The second way of managing stress is keeping close control on the stress reactions produced by the athlete. This way requires training on how to deal with stressful situations and a certain type of adaptation skills to help the athlete realize his full potentials.

Stress control in general are best approached using both ways mentioned above. It is better to help a sport athlete develop coping skills that deal with both internal and external stress factors. An athlete should learn how to deal with the demands he faces and at the same time has to deal with how to calm his stressful reactions. Calming stressful reactions is called stress management strategy and dealing with people` s demands is called stressor management strategies. Both stressor management strategies and stress management strategies are very important to help a sport athlete cope with the demands he faces and cope with every possible situation he could face in the future.


To sum up, stress affects the performance of sport athletes the same way it affects normal people. Athletes need their full attention inside a game but with all the pressure they face and the stress, they feel some of them tend to succumb under the pressure and so they experience a lot of stress reactions that lowers their performances even faster and makes the possibility of increasing it really low during the game. Stress reactions vary from one person to another and there are three types of stress that people have to deal with however for athlete’s to avoid mistakes and failure learning how to deal with stress is very important and identifying all the signs of stress they could face is also really important. When trained athletes can learn how to deal with stressful situations and how to face forwards and carry the demands that the people place upon them and that helps them greatly in increasing their performance.

Psychological Effect of Stress on Athletic Performance

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