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Mental Game: Stress, Anxiety, and Sports Performance

  • 20 Pages
  • Published On: 09-11-2023


Since time immemorial, performance in sports has involved participation in activities related to regular practice and competition (Khan et al. 2017). Some antecedents of anxiety in sporting activities that have featured prominently in different studies are increased intensity of performed activities, the personalities of athlete`s, stressor`s history and intensity and their existent strategies for coping with the stressors. This study, adopts a qualitative approach and carries out integrative review of data from other data sources to examine the effects of stress and anxiety on sports performance and to further determine the importance of psychological training. The collected data will go a long way in improving the mental well-being of sports people.

Chapter One: Introduction

Background of the study

Individuals are said to be in anxious moods when they feel mentally disturbed and these moods are quite common in sporting activities. Khan et al. (2017), consider sport-related anxiety as unpleasant responses that are generally associated with the stress that comes about from sports participation. Sanhueza et al. (2016), define anxiety as psychological states that are not pleasant that are reactions to perceived stress related to the performance of tasks when under pressure and is made up of cognitive (worry and apprehension) and somatic components ( physical activation degree). Different psychological, behavioural and cognitive signs and symptoms characterise anxiety (Delewi et al. 2017). Psychological signs include sweating and increased heart rates (Gribanov et al. 2019); behavioural signs include fidgeting and biting of fingernails (Thapa et al. 2017); cognitive signs include inattention and negative thoughts (Sidenkova, 2017).


In different studies, stressors have been found to act as facilitators of anxiety development in sports settings that are competitive and also bring about injuries during sporting activities (Marchant and Morris, 2004; Zeidner and Mathews, 2005; Laborde et al. 2011; Wilson, 2018). According to Ford et al. (2017), when individuals stress responses to stressful situations are poor, increased risks to injury during sports are increased, highlighting the role played by anxiety as a key personality factor that affects the onset of injury in sports. These stressors, when not addressed adequately, continually influence subsequent injuries and rehabilitation and also have the potential of impacting psychosocial outcomes of rehabilitation (Malathi, 2018).

Aim and objectives

This study will seek to identify the effects of stress and anxiety, both positive and negative on performance in sports with the overall intention of improving the mental well-being of sports people.

The objectives of the study will be;

  1. To determine the effects of stress and anxiety on sports performance.
  2. To examine the possibilities of improving the mental well-being of sports people through psychological training.

Research questions

  1. What are the effects of stress and anxiety on sports performance?
  2. What are the effects of psychological training on stress and anxiety levels?


H1: Anxiety has no significant effects on the performance of players.

H2: Anxiety has significant effects on performance of players.

H3: Psychological training is an appropriate intervention for stress and anxiety among sports people.

H4: Psychological training is not an appropriate intervention for stress and anxiety among sports people.

Theoretical framework

There has been a lot of attention accorded to the impacts of stress and anxiety on sports performance. Different theories have been advanced including reversal theory, drive theory, and inverted-U hypothesis which explain the relationships between stress and anxiety and performance in sports. According to the inverted-U hypothesis theory an inverted U-shaped continuum best describes the effect of stress and anxiety on sports performance (Ford et al. 2017). Jagannath (2016), points out that reduced arousal and anxiety leads to deterioration in performance while increments in arousal and anxiety can work to propel performance to optimum levels. According to the inverted-U hypothesis, when arousal and anxiety exceeds these points, performance begins to decline (Schmidt et al. 2020). The drive theory, however, proposes that state anxiety has a linear relationship with performance and better performance comes about from higher anxiety and stress (Glazier, 2017). A different dimension is advanced by the reversal theory which suggests that an individual`s personal interpretation of their levels of anxiety and arousal as facilitative or debilitative determines how their anxiety affects their performance (Hudson, Males and Kerr, 2016). These earlier theories have led to the development of other multi-dimensional theories like the Smith and Smoll model. According to the model, whenever individuals are faced by competitive sporting situations, they make cognitive appraisals of the perceived imbalance of the situational demands, consequences, resources and the consequences meaning (Correia and Rosado, 2018). There exists a reciprocate relationship between these cognitive appraisals and physiological arousal with the stress response process aforementioned being influenced by the cognitive and somatic sport-specific trait anxiety operations like the different coping strategies (Ford et al. 2017). Dependent on the response to stress, responses that are either task-relevant of task-irrelevant ensue which go a long way in influencing an athlete’s performance in sports. Additionally, the model also proposes that performance in sport also influences subsequent situations in competitive sports and the different subsequent physiological and cognitive appraisals of the situations. Another multi-dimensional theory, the multi-dimensional anxiety theory proposes that cognitive state anxiety has a negative relationship with performance while the relationship between somatic state anxiety and performance takes the form of an inverted-U (Balyan et al. 2016). A different theory, the Individual Zones of Optimal functioning theory states that all people have optimal zones of arousal and anxiety during which their performance peaks (Ruiz, Raglin and Hanin, 2017). During times when their arousal and anxiety falls outside the optimal zones, their performance deteriorates.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

Effects of anxiety and stress on athletic performance

There are different categories in which athletes may experience stress and these are behavioural, affective, sensory, interpersonal, imaginable, biological/physical and cognitive (Zeidner and Matthews, 2005). Examples of affective signs and symptoms are feelings of sorry for oneself, shame, depression, guilt, anger and anxiety. Examples of behavioural signs and symptoms are abuse of drugs and alcohol, behaving aggressively, restlessness, having sleep disturbances, sulkiness, crying, absenteeism, and poor performance (Thapa et al. 2017). Examples of biological and signs are increased heart rates, muscle tensions, stomach spasms, headaches and pain. Worrying, frustration, exaggeration, unrealistic expectations on performance, self-handicapping and self-defecting statements are examples of cognitive signs and symptoms (Sidenkova, 2017). Images of re-injury, failure, helplessness, and embarrassment are examples of imaginable signs and symptoms (Ivarsson et al. 2017). Sensory signs include nausea, tension, cold sweat, pain and clammy hands, while interpersonal signs include argumentation, manipulation and withdrawal.

Sarada and Ramkumar (2015), identified three aspects of stress; psychological, mental and physical, noting both positive and negative effects in all the stress situations. There is a paramount role played by anxiety in sports and anxiety is produced by the challenge to participation in sports (Balyan et al. 2016; Khan et al. 2017; Rice et al. 2019). The different ways in which athletes handle their anxiety goes a long way in determining their levels of success with the levels of anxiety varying on the basis of different conditions. Borkoles et al. (2018), posit that levels of anxiety are higher in sports that are more competitive as in such sports there are more expectations on participants to win and succeed. According to Ford et al. (2017), all sports people have anxiety and that has effects on the performance of sports people.

Anxiety disrupts an individual`s attention making them worry more about their performance in situations that are competitive. The effect on the thinking ranges from mild worry to extreme terror.

Anxiety also direct effects on the Central Nervous System (CNS), which makes people incapable of effectively and efficiently performing their mental functions which has an effect on athletes sports performance (Bao et al. 2017; Salim, 2017). Khan et al. (2017), argue that anxiety has effects on athletes mental levels and in effect changes their performance in the shape of high blood pressure and nervous which have direct relations to the CNS. The production of Catecholamine, which is commonly referred to as dopamine, epinephrine and nor epinephrine is stimulated by anxiety (Parrott et al. 2018). These are chemicals that are recognised as having adverse effects on memory, both short and long term memory of affected individuals. They make people become irritable and forgetful tending to experience lack of concentration, disturbed patterns of sleep, reduced sleep and feelings of fear (Severino et al. 2019).

Those athletes who suffer from stress and anxiety and are not able to control their symptoms end up having performance issues (Merchant and Morris, 2004; Laborde et al. 2011; Sanhueza et al. 2016; Wilson, 2018). High levels of anxiety during competition harm athletes, worsening their performance and in extreme cases, even leading to drop out. An athlete’s performance is affected when they suffer injuries and are stressed and anxious of whether and when they will return to active sports. Psychological issues brought about injury are related to fear about surgery, getting injured again, patient’s unwillingness with recovery and rehabilitation, avoiding rehabilitation and activities that are related to sports and concerns that injury will have disappointing consequences on others (Ivarsson et al. 2017).

Hafeez (2018), however, points out that it is not all stress that is bad for performance as some stress can help athletes to become increasingly alert, motivated to practice effectively gaining competitive advantages, while on the other hand, excessive stress brings about performance anxiety. Performance anxiety has an effect on the health of players as it does not give them the chance of playing with confidence, in relaxed ways and focusing on their competitions (Henderson et al. 2012). Stress is an energy burst which guides people on what to do and in small doses can help people meet their daily goals and also motivate them to attain their goals. Stress is a vital warning system which produces flight-or-flight responses (Leung et al. 2011). When people`s brains perceive stress, they begin producing different chemicals like cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine which in effect create different reactions like increments in heart rates and blood pressure (Parrott et al. 2018). Additionally, when one is stressed, their senses have a laser-like focus which helps them avoid physical situations that are stressful, like the jumping away from moving cars to safety.

Effects of psychological training on stress and anxiety levels of sports people

Golby and Wood (2016), examined the effects of psychological skills intervention on the enhancement of student athlete`s mental toughness and their psychological well-being utilising different measures of positive psychological constructs and mental toughness. Mental toughness was observed to improve significantly during the course of the intervention, other factors that improved were positive affect, perceived self-efficacy and self-esteem. The study found significant positive relations between mental toughness and the different positive measures which points out to mental toughness as a positive psychological construct which has the capabilities of fostering positive psychological states. Veskovic et al. (2019), studied the effects of psychological skill training programs on the levels of anxiety in top Karate athletes. The applied psychological skills program that was used in the study was found to have a positive effect on the optimisation of levels of anxiety and self-confidence among top karate athletes. The study also found emotional self-regulation to be important for athletes and recommended the implementation of the intervention provided that it was adapted to the different characteristics of different sports. A different study by Akbarian et al. (2018), on the effects of mental health training programs on stress, anxiety and depression of pregnant women showed that mental health training was a useful intervention for the prevention of stress, depression and anxiety.

Statement of the problem

Stress affects the daily lives of athletes with more athletes struggling with stress than any other people. Even with documented mental health benefits of participation in sports, athletes still find themselves experiencing behavioural, emotional and psychological problems, which necessitates the need for stress management. The research addresses the effects of stress and anxiety on sports performance and explores the potential of psychological performance in reducing and eliminating anxiety and stress in sports people for improvement of their performance.

Chapter Three: Methodology


This study`s subjects will be selected in accordance with their performance in the Under 18 Premier League and pre-test from the entire team of Wolves U18. An experimental and control group will be identified.

Instruments and procedures

Information will be elicited from these players through the form of tests. In this study, both the experimental and control groups will be put under the same tests. Their test results will subsequently be collected and analysed for purposes of determining the effects that stress and anxiety have on their sports performance.

This will be a two-month process, and 20 youthful players will be involved. The experimental group will be made up of the 12 of the players who make up the first team and who are exposed to immense stress and anxiety causing factors as a result of the performance expectations placed on them to perform, while the control group will comprise of 8 players who will be conditioned properly to ensure they have no stressors, or under any anxiety, and who will be granted playing opportunities from time to time as substitutes for research purposes. Both teams will be required to fill the Sports Anxiety Scale developed by Smith et al. (2006). The scale is a 15-item questionnaire that comes in handy in the assessment of the competitive trait anxiety that athletes experience, before and after competitions. There are three factors included in the scale, and these include, worry, somatic anxiety and disruption of concentration. The players’ performance will be measured in numerous ways, including recording of physical performance metrics and also the measurement of football performance indicators. The physical performance metrics include the players speed, lifted weights, acceleration, covered distances, and heart rate recovery. The football performance indicators to be recorded include, the players number of attacking corners, number of free-kicks, number of counter attacks, duration of attacking play, number of set pieces, average number of passes, and the number of scored goals.

At the end of the experimental term. These measurements are to be recorded for both the experimental and the control group.

Data analysis

Data preparation

This is a quantitative study and several steps will be followed for purposes of preparing the collected data for analysis statistically. The data collected from the tests will first be inspected with the intention of identifying missing scores. To determine whether the scores are to be treated as missing or wrong, the researcher will go about establishing whether the subject made any reasonable attempt to answer the tests questions and if so, those questions that will not have been answered will be treated as wrong and their score will be zero. However, in the event more than half of the questions are not answered, the data will be regarded as missing, and the subject will not be included in the statistics.

The raw scores recorded from the Sports Anxiety Scale, physical performance metrics, and football performance indicators will be typed carefully into the SPSS data table for purposes of deriving the data desired. The results will subsequently be fed into SPPS and subsequently analysed through the use of independent sample T-test analysis.

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Scoring of the test

During data analysis, the different object answer sheets will be marked by the use of a computer, and for purposes of getting results that are increasingly convincible and persuasive, the subject answers will be put through subjective marking by two therapists instead of being done by the researcher. The subject part`s final score will be the mean of the two scores.


Timeline Timeline

Gantt chart

Gantt chart


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