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Understanding and Managing Stress in Sport

Updated: Jul 24, 2022

"I was trying to run away from the relentless stress and pressure I had on myself the whole time."

Naomi Cavaday, former British tennis pro, on her mental challenges within sport .

Stress appears to be a common element in sports, and it can be harmful to players in some situations. We've all experienced stress; despite that, we often wonder what it meant when discussing stress in sports. What impact does stress have on athletes? Is it feasible to keep athletes stress-free? Are all stresses bad?

What are the stressors faced by athletes?

Although we may immediately think of the things that make us feel tired or mentally tired when we think of stress, these 'stressors' are only one aspect of a larger stress process. Specifically, stressors in sports refer to the "environmental demands that a person faces." Sport-related stressors, which are largely unique to the sporting environment, can typically be classed into three categories.

Competitive stressors

These are the environmental needs that athletes must meet in order to perform well in competitions. Some competitive stressors you may be familiar with are:

● Preparation, such as insufficient pre-competition training

● Injury, such as decreasing fitness as a result of an injury

● Pressure to win

● Underperformance, not in form.

Organizational stressors

These environmental needs are closely related to an athlete's organizational structure. The following are some of the most common organizational pressures in sports:

● Irregular training hours

● Conflict with management/teammates

● Not getting picked to participate

● Lack of ambition in the squad

Personal stressors

Athletes may also encounter pressures that are unrelated to their sport. These pressures may be similar to those we endure throughout our lives, but athletes may suffer additional challenges such as:

● Student-athlete juggling academics and sports.

● Missing loved ones while training out of comfort zone

● Problems in the family or relationships

How might athletes attempt to cope with these stressors?

Having recognise the stressors, the next step to managing stress is coping. It means an athlete's attempt to deal with a stressor once it has been classified as 'stressful.' Coping methods are frequently divided into three groups.

Problem-focused coping: Athletes directly addresses the stressor

Emotion-focused coping: Athletes attempts to regulate their emotions as a result of the situation

Avoidance coping: Athletes' attempt to escape the stressor

You may believe that problem-focused coping is the most practical strategy; though it is frequently effective, it's vital to remember that no single method will be effective in all scenarios. Sometimes the problem is not under the control of the athlete, for example organizational stressors mentioned above. Athletes who understand the stressors they're dealing with and can match a proper coping method to it are more likely to succeed.

"You have to pull yourself up from that or have people around you that are there to help you."

Michail Antonio, West Ham player, on coping with the stressors within Premier League football

The first step to manage stress is to recognize and acknowledge stress. With that, a better understanding of how you deal with stress and how you can protect themselves from the detrimental effects of stress will help you in your sporting career.

Are you ready to manage your stress? Talk to us!

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