Reducing Anxiety in the Competitive Environment

Vikki Krane
Bowling Green State University

It is the last match of your regular season. If your team wins, they will advance to the championship game. All season the team has been improving steadily and the last few games the team has played remarkably well. In the locker room before the game, the players keep reminding each other how important this game is and that they have to win it. They seem very excited to play, and win, this game. Unfortunately, once on the court, the players make a lot of fundamental mistakes and do not play at all to their potential. 

The above example can be very frustrating for coaches. While most athletes will experience some, too much anxiety will interfere with their performances. 

Coaches can reduce the chances of their team suffering from excessive anxiety by implementing several relatively simple strategies:  

Realize the Needs of Individual Team Members

Observe Team Members

  • You may notice that players have their own unique way to prepare for a match. 
  • Athlete needs to be psyched up enough to be ready to play, but not so aroused that performance suffers. 
  • Some athletes will need to relax and calm down before competition, while others may need to be more energized or psyched up for competition. 

Coach Actions

  • Be careful when giving pre-game talks. A rousing pep talk may help some athletes, yet also make other athletes too anxious. 
    • Limit the pre-game talk to essential information needed for team and individual strategies
    • Save the pep talk for individual athletes who need to be psyched up
  • Provide some time for athletes to prepare on their own
    • Build some time into your pre-competition warm-ups for athletes to do some individualized mental readying
    • Some athletes will want to relax, calm down, or be by themselves. Other athletes may stay close to teammates, get psyched up, or perhaps joke around as a distraction from thinking too much about the game. 
    • It is important to learn how your athletes like to prepare for competition. Then individualize how you interact with athletes before matches.
      • Build the confidence and try to calm athletes who need to relax.
      • Use motivational remarks for athletes who like to get excited before they compete.

Reduce the Importance of Winning

  • Athletes cannot always control whether or not they win. A team may perform almost flawlessly and still lose a match. 
  • Encourage athletes to differentiate between playing well and winning by stressing the importance of improvement and playing to the best of one\'s ability. 
  • To help athletes focus on playing well, set realistic goals to improve specific skills. As players accomplish their goals, they can feel proud of their performance, even though the team may not have won the contest. 
  • Reward players\' efforts, not only the final outcome. 
  • Provide instruction on how to correct skills as well as encourage them to continue working hard. 
  • As athletes realize that you are satisfied with improved play, not only winning matches, they will experience less anxiety prior to and during competition.  

Reducing Uncertainty in the Competitive Environment

  • Help athletes prepare for all possible situations that may arise. 
    1. Discuss with the team possible "worst case scenarios" or unfavorable situations that may interfere with performance. 
    2. Develop coping strategies for each situation. 
    3. Finally, practice being in an uncomfortable situation and coping successfully. 
  • If this situation arises in real life, athletes will feel prepared, confident, and less anxious, increasing chances of performing well under less than ideal circumstances.
  • EXAMPLE:  “Pretend” your team bus is stuck in traffic. Consider how the players may begin to prepare while still on the bus.
    • begin stretching on the bus
    • put on any sport equipment and shoes
    • mentally prepare by reviewing team strategies

These activities may help athletes avoid a "flat" beginning of the match.

Conclusion

  • Eliminating anxiety from the competitive environment is not possible, nor desirable. 
  • Managing anxiety and reducing the chances of team members experiencing too much anxiety will be beneficial.
  • As anxiety is reduced, players will feel more comfortable in competitive situations and have more confidence in their abilities, and perform better.  

 

Adapted from: Krane, V. (1992, August/September). Minimizing anxiety in the competitive environment. Coaching Volleyball, 28-29.

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