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The importance of stress control in sports competition

The importance of stress control in sports competition

October 2, 2023

The vast majority of professional athletes have had to contend during their sporting career with setbacks or situations that have caused their level of sports performance to decrease. One of those situations is the onset of stress, anxiety during the competitive period . In these cases, overcoming these setbacks is vital for the achievement of sporting goals.

How stress and anxiety affect sports competition

When talking about anxiety, we are talking about an emotion, which can be defined as a state of physiological and psychological imbalance due to a potentially uncertain situation for the individual. This usually occurs because the athlete, when competing, makes a conscious or unconscious assessment of the situation and the circumstances that surround it, those athletes who think that there is a great difference between what the environment demands and what they can give, that is, that they have a perception of negative self-efficacy regarding that situation, begin to feel stress . One of the symptoms of stress is anxiety.

This is a fairly common phenomenon in high competition. Professional sportsmen like the tennis player Rafael Nadal, have passed by periods in which his level of anxiety during the competition has been excessive , and this has led to a drop in their performance. This is why, more and more it is necessary the presence of sports psychologists within the high competition.

All those people involved in sports, in which their main role is to prepare and optimize the qualities of athletes, agree that excessive levels of anxiety in the competition interfere with performance.

Sports psychologists are professionals who can help improve the performance of athletes. You can read this article to know the strengths of this profession: "10 reasons to put a sports psychologist in your life".

Main consequences of stress in competition

The presence of stress and competitive anxiety produce some consequences or symptoms both physiological and psychological . They are the following:

Physiological symptoms

  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • Increase in blood glucose and adrenaline secretion
  • Upset stomach, dry mouth

Psychological symptoms

  • Descent of mental flexibility
  • Confusion
  • Visual distortion
  • Doubt in decision making
  • Increase in negative thoughts
  • Reduced ability to focus on acting

These physiological and psychological reactions can be caused by real situations of the game or by the factors that surround the competition, however, it has been proven that it is the athlete himself with his inadequate mental representation of the fact that usually causes these states .

Tools to combat competitive stress

Therefore, this proves once again that everything that happens in the body is controlled by our brain . Each variation in our physiological state is associated with changes in the cognitive or emotional state, and vice versa.

There are different procedures to combat competitive stress and, therefore, improve sports performance

Relaxation procedures

According to different experts, to relax we can follow two strategies that achieve the same effects: go from the mind to the muscles or from the muscles to the mind. In other words, to overcome this situation that interferes with sports performance, we can focus our attention on different relaxation techniques to relieve the tension of our mind and body

In this way, we have relaxation techniques which focus on the perception of bodily symptoms as the level of muscle tension:

  • Jacobson's progressive relaxation
  • Control of breathing
  • Mindfulness Techniques

Or we have relaxation procedures that focus on relaxation ideas or images. These techniques are called "mind-to-muscle techniques":

  • Autogenic training of Schultz , using ideas and thoughts of relaxation.

Therefore, the improvement of this relationship between the mind and the body, having a constant emotional stability throughout the course of the competition, ensures the use of all the faculties of the individual within the sports competition .

The different tools given in this article help considerably to control the high levels of anxiety and stress caused by high competition.

Sport psychology - inside the mind of champion athletes: Martin Hagger at TEDxPerth (October 2023).

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