We often hear in the media that this or that athlete is very anxious, blocked or under pressure. When he is anxious, his performance decreases, so he begins to worry (eg, what is wrong with me? Why do I fail so much?), increasing his anxiety and generating a vicious circle.
But what is sports anxiety really? And above all, how can it be remedied?
Anxiety is the maximum degree of activation of our organism and is associated with an increase in worries (anchored in mistakes made, having expectations of failure, etc.) and with negative feelings.
People’s level of activation varies along a continuum from deep sleep to intense arousal. When we are asleep, our activation is low, so we cannot respond to any stimulus (eg, having a conversation). As our autonomic nervous system secretes adrenaline into the bloodstream, we activate ourselves (increases heart rate, respiration, muscle tension, etc.) and, therefore, our response capacity increases, for example, defending a counterattack. The problem comes when, in a given situation, our autonomic nervous system continues to secrete more adrenaline than necessary, generating a degree of activation so high that it blocks the ability to respond. Performance decreases and concerns begin, therefore, the degree of activation increases.
According to Lander and Broutcher (1986), the degree of activation and the response capacity or performance of a person are related in an inverted “U” shape. At low activation levels, performance is poor. As the athlete’s activation increases, so does the performance, until reaching an optimum point of maximum execution level. If the activation level continues to increase, performance will decrease.
But, what is the optimal degree of activation for maximum sports performance? It depends on the following factors:
First of all, each activity requires different activation levels. For example, when a tennis player is at rest or when a soccer or basketball player is defending, they need to be alert in order to react quickly; that is, its activation level must be high. On the other hand, in the tennis serve, or when shooting a free kick, the players need more precision in the execution, therefore, they have to have a lower degree of activation. In short, it is important that athletes know their sport and know how to regulate its degree of activation according to the task to be performed so that its performance is optimal.
Second, people differ from each other. There are people who require a high degree of activation to perform at their best, while other people can perform in the same way with a lower degree of activation. For this reason, it is necessary for each athlete to identify what their optimal degree of activation is; recording their activation level (on a scale of 0 to 10) and their performance (low, medium and high performance scale), analyzing the degree of activation related to high performance.
Third, there are personal and task characteristics that generate anxiety and it is important to know them.
Regarding the characteristics of the task, it is worth highlighting:
- Importance of the event: The greater the importance, the greater the degree of anxiety. When playing a final or a tie, the degree of anxiety in athletes increases. A play within a match can also be important, since it can decide the result in favor or against. Eg: penalty shootout, …
- Uncertainty: The greater the degree of uncertainty, the greater the level of anxiety. When the matches or the competition is very even, it is unknown who will get the victory so the degree of anxiety increases. In some situations, CBD products can help dealing with anxiety.
- Time shortage: It affects those sports whose duration is determined. For example: handball, soccer, basketball, etc. When there is little time left for the end, the rush begins, the hasty decisions; in short, it increases anxiety.
- Changes in routine: We are animals of habit. From a young age we learn to carry out a series of habits that, if they modify it, upset us. For athletes, routines are very important, it favors them getting into competition, so the variations in some of them generate anxiety.
By understanding anxiety and how it affects us, we will understand how to control it.