Arousal, Anxiety and Sport Performance

Arousal, anxiety and sport performance
During decades coaches and athletes have been witnesses of how arousal and anxiety affect performance. But, why it occurs To know how to differentiate and interpret both, their sources and learning ways to regulate them is very useful to maximise performance.

Arousal is a general physiological and psychological activation, varying on a continuum from deep sleep to intense excitement. Highly aroused individuals are mentally and physically activated experiencing physiological changes which include increased heart rates, respiration and sweating (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).

Anxiety is a negative emotional state in which feelings of nervousness, worry and apprehension are associated with activation or arousal of the body. These feelings are the cognitive anxiety component while the degree of arousal perceived is the somatic anxiety component. In addition, an important distinction should be made between state and trait anxiety (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).
??? State anxiety is an immediate emotional state that is characterized by an increase in physiological arousal (Cox, 2003)
??? Trait anxiety is a personality predisposition to perceive certain environmental situations as threatening, and to respond to these situations with increased state anxiety (Spielberger, 1971 cited Cox, 2003)

Whether or not an athlete responds to a threatening situation with high levels of state anxiety will depend entirely on the athlete??™s perception of the situation (Cox, 2003). Increasing arousal state anxiety influences athletic performance by increasing muscle tension and coordination difficulties, and changing attention or concentration levels (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).

Catastrophe theory
The catastrophe theory explains the arousal-performance relationship holding that the two independent variables affecting athletic performance are cognitive state anxiety and physiological arousal. (Horn, 2002) The theory suggests that increases in arousal will facilitate performance up to an optimal level. But, as we can see in figure 1, when an athlete has high cognitive anxiety and goes over his optimal level of arousal there will be a large and dramatic decline in performance from which will be very difficult to recover (Horn, 2002). However, if the athlete has low cognitive anxiety his arousal will be related to performance in an inverted-U fashion (Weinberg & Gould, 2003).

Figure 1- The catastrophe model (Davis, Bull, Roscoe, J., and Roscoe, D., 2005).

For example, a tennis player has a winning advantage in an important match. As the end of the match comes close he starts to develop a cognitive state anxiety (nervousness and apprehension). This feeling makes an increase in his arousal making it goes over his optimal level. At this point he starts to make a chain of mistakes that end in the loss of the match.
Athletes must learn to control his arousal levels. Here is where sports psychologists play a key role. They have to teach athletes different strategies to be able to control arousal levels to optimise performance.

Coping strategies
According to Hodge (2005) coping refers to the process of using methods to manage stressful demands that we perceive as pressure. Managing anxiety is primarily dependent on your self-control in a stressful situation; this is a fundamental issue in coping with any stress (Hodge, 2005). Sport psychologists must teach athletes how to cope anxiety through strategies such as self-talk, breath control, relaxation, imagery (Gill, 2000).

Imagery involves the ability to mentally recreate experiences and situations using all the senses, visual, kinaesthetic, auditory, tactile and olfactory, and involving moods and emotions (Hodge, 2005). Gould and Damarjian (1996) suggest that for an effective use of imagery is required:
??? Facilitate imagery through relaxation.
??? Be practised regularly using both internal and external perspectives.
??? Use all the senses need to enhance image vividness.
??? Develop a control of images.
??? Develop coping strategies through imagery.
??? Use cues to facilitate imagery quality.
(Gill, 2000)
Imagery can be a valuable tool to deal with anxiety. It can improve performance by helping you to maintain an optimal level of arousal (Hodge, 2005).

Case study
In the following case study we will develop a coping strategy to help an athlete deal with anxiety experienced before his sporting competition. The strategy chosen is imagery. Learning how to use imagery will help the athlete to control his activation levels. Gould and Damarjian (1996) propose a four phase model to develop an imagery program (Gill, 2000).
1. Awareness, realistic expectations and basic education.
It is important to be aware of the applications of imagery. Knowing some examples of athletes using imagery successfully can help to understand it. However, it also important to know that it requires continuous practise. Imagery will help to success but it is not the substitute of physical practice (Gill, 2000).
2. Imagery skill evaluation and development.
Individuals vary in their imagery skill levels. It is important to develop clear, vivid and controllable images to gain the most benefit from using imagery (Hodge, 2005). To develop imagery skills we should start with basic exercises in order to develop clear and vivid images, to learn to control images and to improve ability to become more self-aware when practising imagery (Gill, 2000).
3. Using imagery.
Now imagery will be used for our purposes. To produce the imagery scripts athlete and psychologist will decide the model used to deliver the session (PETTLEP or Relaxation & imagery). Then, the athlete has to concentrate on a previous event and describe what he experiences (sights, sounds, smells, fell and emotions). Finally, the script has to be refined including stimulus-response propositions using the descriptors identified and the correct emotional and physical reactions (Finn, Nescot College, 2007).
Imagery should begin with guided practice in a quiet relax setting and with short sessions. After a few sessions we should practice self-directed imagery using an audiotape recorded with the imagery scripts. Once we had developed clear, vivid and controllable images, we will progress using imagery during training or practice. Finally, we will begin the use of imagery before and during competition (Hodge, 2005).
4. Evaluation, adjustment and refinement.
It is very important to evaluate whether imagery trainig has met its goals and whether refinements and adjustments are nedeed (Gill, 2000).

According to the catastrophe theory high levels of arousal will have a rapid decline in performance. Through imagery we will bring down athlete??™s high level of cognitive anxiety and maintain his arousal at the optimal level. This will make him to perform in an inverted-U manner. In addition, being focus in the use of imagery before competition will help the athlete to forget his negative feelings and thoughts.

Groups and Teams
Sporting activities usually involve groups and teams. So it is important to understand the processes and dynamics of groups in order to increase enjoyment, enhance participation and achieve peak performance. This knowledge is very useful for coaches and team leaders to be able to achieve effective team building and cohesion (Hodge, 2004).

According to Hodge (2004), a group is defined as a collection of individuals who have connections with one another that make them interdependent to some significant degree. Interaction, mutual awareness, interdependence and continuity over time are the key characteristics of groups (Morris and Summers, 1995).

A team is a special type of group which have a well-developed collective identity and who work together focused on a joint goal or set of goals. Sharing objectives makes the team members interdependent to some significant degree (Morris and Summers, 1995).

For example, a group of road cyclist meet for training. They have a shared purpose (training), they are aware of each other (belong to the same discipline) and they interact with each other (pace each other). But, what make them a team For instance, take six members of that group who belong to the same club and are taking part in a race. They still have a shared purpose (winning); they are aware of each other (same club) and interact with each other (pace each other and share coaches). Nevertheless, they are a team because they have a well-develop collective identity, same club and same category (junior), and work together to achieve the goal (winning).

Steiner??™s model of group productivity
Steiner (1972) developed a model to show the relationship between ability and player interaction. This model (see equation bellow) states that a group??™s actual productivity is equal to its potential productivity minus ???process losses??? (Horn, 2002)

Actual productivity = Potential productivity ??“ Losses due to faulty process

In sport actual productivity is seen as the group performance, what the group actually does (Morris and Summers, 1995). Potential productivity refers to a group??™s possible best performance, given each player??™s ability, knowledge, mental and physical skill (Weinberg and Gould, 2003). Finally, losses due to faulty process are the ineffective use of available resources to meet task demands (Morris and Summers, 1995). Faulty process can be sub-divided in motivation losses and coordination losses. Motivation losses occur when group members do not give his maximum effort. Coordination losses occur when the timing between group members is not right or when ineffective strategies are used (Weinberg and Gould, 2003). Sports like basketball which require more cooperation between players are more susceptible to coordination losses that sports that require less coordination (e.g. swimming) (Weinberg and Gould, 2003).

A common assumption about team performance is that the best individuals make the best team (Hodge, 2004); however, this is not completely true as the following example illustrates: At the semi-finals of the ???Copa del Rey??™ (equivalent to FA cup) the favourite Barcelona (won the fist leg 5-2) played against Getafe and lost 4-0. Barcelona is well known for individual players of great skills whereas Getafe plays for the first time in the ???Copa del Rey??™. Getafe does not have extraordinary individual players but was able to win the match. According to Steiner (1972), team??™s performance is affected on one hand by individual ability and faulty group processes. Even though Getafe??™s potential productivity is lower than Barcelona??™s they were very motivated, coordinated and using the correct tactics. On the other hand, potential productivity of the Barcelona team was seriously affected by motivational and coordination losses. This ended loosing and important match and the opportunity to reach the final. Steiner??™s model of group productivity can explain why Barcelona team did a catastrophic match loosing 4-0. Only when a team effectively uses its available resources to match the demand of the task will its performance approach its potential performance (Weinberg and Gould, 2003).

Another aspect that seems to affect performance is group size. A French psychologist, Ringelmann, who examined individual and group performance, found that the average individual performance decreased with increases in group size, this finding is referred as the Ringelmann effect. Steiner (1972) interpreted the Ringelmann effect as being the result of coordination losses; that is, as the group size increases it becomes more difficult to coordinate effort and skill execution (Morris and Summers, 1995). According to Steiner??™s model of group productivity a basketball team (5 players) will have less coordination loses that a football team (11 players). However, Littlepage (1991) suggest that performance seems to be more closely tied to the number of persons actively participating in the group than to merely the number present. The decreased participation of some members in larger groups is not always dysfunctional (Littlepage, 1991).

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??? Davis, B., Bull, R., Roscoe, J., and Roscoe, D. (2000) Physical Education and the Study of Sport. 4th ed. Edinburgh: Mosby.
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