How to manage stress during contest

How to manage stress during contest
Written by Frosso Patsou

The multi-dimensional nature of stress and its division into cognitive, physical, genetically predisposed (personality) and state-relevant (contest or workout) enables us to perceive and deal with several of its aspects, with the aim of managing and maximizing the performance of the athlete.

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Manage stress during contest

The presence of anxiety that occurs at the beginning of a contest is considered highly influential by many athletes.

If the athlete believes that he cannot control the stress he feels before the contest then this will negatively affect performance.

This notion inhibits any effort made.  Conversely, if the athlete feels that he can control the symptoms of stress and use them to his own benefit, then stress is interpreted as a sign of readiness to compete and it works to our advantage.

When the brain becomes aware that a situation is dangerous, then the body starts secreting hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol which stimulate the body and prepare it to deal with the dangerous situation.

Cognitive stress

The research data indicate that several days before the competition positive (sign of confidence) or negative (stress mark) thoughts start occurring  in the minds of athletes.

However, the body still shows no signs of anxiety (tremor, fast beating rate, sweating, stomach pain, etc.). Thus, cognitive stress can be present in high levels even several days before the contest and remains stable as the contest date approaches.

Physical stress

On the other hand, the physical stress is low several days before the contest and it increases as the day of the contest approaches. It reaches its climax just a few minutes before the beginning of the contest.

When it begins, the physical stress levels fall rapidly while the cognitive stress fluctuates.

Fear and doubt about the outcome of the competition, personality traits (anxiety personality type), fear of negative social evaluation of people considered significant, the overestimation of perceived risks, depreciation of skills, fear of injury, poor preparation, perfectionism and the change in routine (e.g. delayed time of contest) are the most important factors that trigger cognitive stress and consequently increase levels of stress before the contest.

What you need to bear in mind is that the optimal level of stress differs from athlete to athlete. Moreover, the ideal level of anxiety can be accomplished through psychological techniques. The determination of the ideal level becomes either directly or in retrospect (withdrawal method).

Many athletes believe that by not discussing what they think (denial), by resorting to sedative substances or by increasing levels of eating properly are ways of facing anxiety before the competition.

What is certain is that the previous tactics eventually bring on higher levels of doubt, fear and stress to the athlete.

The most appropriate actions in order to manage pre-contest anxiety are the following:

  1. Check the conditions, situations and thoughts that cause stress.
  1. Each time before each competition you must set: realistic, achievable, specific, positive and measurable goals based on the results you have during your training.
  1. Think what you must do correctly and that you are able to manage because you have worked and trained on this basis
  1. Organize alternative plans for the contest. This will create calmness and confidence that you have thought through anything that might go wrong and that you know how to deal with it.
  1. Keep records with your training process and note down your progress so you can boost your confidence.
  1. Use relaxation techniques and proper breathing.

Stress is something that affects athletes either positively or negatively.

Sports psychology has the tools and techniques that help manage stress attacks, with the aim of maximizing performance.

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Cognitive restructuring, rationalization of cognitive distortions, changing negative thoughts into positive ones and learning techniques for stress management is the assistance offered by the expert scientist to the athlete in order to have the desired effect.

About the author

Frosso Patsou

Sports Psychologist