Stressed? Will your athletic performance be impacted?

Short answer: it depends….

But here is the full answer: stress can be bad or good, depending on your own individual processing style.

“You’re always going to be nervous teeing it up in a Major Championship. It’s very natural and it’s a good thing. It means that you want it.” said Rory McIlroy, when asked about how he handled Stress.

Every competitive athlete experiences some Stress. Some athletes can’t sleep the night before competition, or eat the morning before, some might even throw up when at the start line!

You need to feel some excitement/thrill in anticipation of the event – an optimum level of these emotions will help you perform your best; too much is going to work against you. Your ability to cope effectively with this Stress is critical to consistent peak performance.

Hans Selye is the Canadian Scientist who coined the terms eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress).

Eustress = good stress

Some athletes experience sensations that everyone else is feeling – anxiety, tension, butterflies – and they use these to create a heightened state where they have more energy, better concentration and increased confidence. Thus, they experience these feelings as eustress leading to them achieving their goals.

Distress = bad stress

For other athletes, it’s a different story. The pressure of the situation crushes them and they experience distress thereby feeling overwhelmed or anxious about their events, which will hinder their performance. As Dr. Selye himself, once said about stress: “It’s not so much what happens to you but how you take it.

Sources of stress

Self generated: some athletes who have a perfectionist mentality put excessive pressure on themselves e.g my daughter is training in Muay Thai (Thai boxing) for which she has an innate talent. She got frustrated at not being able to perform a complicated manoeuvre having only just being shown it once! Patience isn’t her top virtue….

Others: athletes can also feel stressed due to perceived expectations from teammates, coaches and parents. For international athletes, this list can also include: media outlets; redemption from past performances or mistakes; the need to prove others wrong; the fear of failing; attempts to live up to their ranking; attempts to bounce back from injury or adversity; fear of losing playing time or fear of losing can worsen their experience of Stress.

Former Manchester United player and winner of eight Premier League championships Gary Neville talked about the difficulty pressure presents for some athletes.

NEVILLE: “Winning the title is obviously about performance, but the mental side is huge. Our first title at Manchester United I never looked forward to it, I struggled with it, and so did other young players. “

In this instance, the athlete has to forget about all the noise from the media and the fans as these distractions result in unnecessary pressure.

It all boils down to how the athlete perceives Stress.

How do you perceive Stress?

The range of pressure for an athlete to perform at their peak is unique for each athlete. Knowing how Stress affects you and the optimal range of pressure for you to perform at your peak, will help improve your performance.

Steps to stress mindfulness:

Begin by reviewing your past performances.
• Look at when you performed well and when you performed badly
• Be ruthlessly honest about the various factors that contributed to both types of performances
• Write these down and track them back as far as is possible
• Identify the preparation that contributed to performance: foods you ate, rest you had, work pressures you were under, sleep quality you had, alcohol consumption etc
• Identify the mind-set that contributed to performance: did you feel prepared well for the competition? Were you excited to compete? Were you focused on strategy/tactics?
• How relaxed were you?

If you’re an athlete who is frequently tight, tense, anxious, or wants to learn more about how to relax better under pressure – then consider stress management therapy.

Strategies to manage your Stress:

So how do YOU experience Stress? Eustress or Distress?

If you find yourself getting stressed and losing confidence before events, then you might like to try the following:

1. Full body massage: getting a massage before an event not only realigns and rebalances your body, it helps to relax your mind as well; additionally, it will allay your fears about your body giving up on you because you will have done all you can to keep it in peak condition.

2. Mindfulness meditation: an excellent strategy to calm your mind. It is simple and very effective: take yourself to a quiet place and bring your awareness to your breath….keep it on your breath and soon you will find that your heart rate has slowed down and consequently you will feel less anxious and jittery. This meditation needs practice so make sure you have done it several times before the event itself.

3. Pseudo Orientation in Time (POT): if the 2 above practices don’t fully get rid of your Distress, then consider hypnotherapy. An excellent hypnotherapeutic technique termed Pseudo Orientation in Time (POT) which has helped me climb mountains and other athletes successfully complete the 24hr Endurance race.

To conclude: Stress is all about perception for each athlete. Not all stress is bad for your performance. Eustress is when stress works for you, making you alert and focused. Motivating you to practice to gain a competitive edge, thereby perform at your optimal level. Conversely, too much stress, or distress, can cause performance anxiety, which hurts your health and does not allow you to play relaxed, confident, and focused in competition.

If you feel you need help to deal with Stress, in order that Stress helps your athletic performance instead of hindering it, then please seek help from a specialist, such as Diksha Chakravarti, FiXme Ltd www.fixme.org.uk | 07878 148229

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