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Anxiety positively affects performance

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Luke Hopson - Psychology of Sports Participation Anxiety positively affects performance In the past, anxiety has been defined as "an expression of an individual's personality" (Singer, 1975, p105). This may appear to some people as a very vague representation; however it may prove not to be that bad after all. Everybody becomes anxious from time to time, but the way we interpret this anxiety varies from person to person depending on several factors linked to personality. Some people may say that a more accurate and up to date definition would be that anxiety "is a negative emotional state characterised by nervousness, worry and apprehension" (Weinberg & Gould, 2003, p79). This is a far more concise illustration, yet it clearly states that anxiety is a 'negative' factor, while it has also been proven to produce positive outcomes. Anxiety is only negative when individual perceives it as being negative. The level of anxiety in a situation relates to the amount of stress involved, skill level and the nature of the activity. For example, performers may gain anxiety from the crowd or opponents they fear, if their mind focuses on this, or they may simply just not feel like taking part in the event. State anxiety refers to this "ever-changing mood component" (Weinberg et al 2003, p79). These components could be for example state of mind on day, environment, situation, or the weather. ...read more.


Strong-minded individuals can overcome anxiety and use it to their advantage by using various methods including rational thinking, self talk and visualisation, a point briefly addressed by Giacobbi and Weinberg in 2000. These are the type of athletes who use anxiety as a catalyst to improve their performance. They may do this by using selective attention, shutting out all external factors and focusing on their own personal performance. The somatic anxiety that builds up just before an event, like butterflies or sweaty palms have been proven to enhance performance. From a personal point of view I can clarify this, as I have experienced these physiological values from anxiety in past experiences. Whilst being an elite 800m runner, I would experience both cognitive and somatic anxiety prior to a prestigious event. Days before, I would become apprehensive and perceive injuries such as muscle strains, which probably weren't really there. My race plan would be continuously playing in my mind which subconsciously produced more anxiety. However when it came to the day, I would often perform well and use that anxiety to increase my level of performance. Without the anxiety that had gradually been increasing throughout the week, I do not feel that I would have ever produced the regular adrenalin rushes present in many of my performances. ...read more.


For example, Paul Gascoigne was too psyched up in an early nineties FA Cup final, where he had so much adrenalin and anxiety that he committed a lot of foul play. A theory that appeals to my way of thinking would be the catastrophe theory (Hardy & Fazey, 1987). This theory states that if cognitive anxiety is high, the arousal reaches a maximum level and a catastrophe occurs. This could be for instance when a 100m runner 'chokes' under pressure, due to their high-level of somatic anxiety. They become tense and the adrenalin in their muscles becomes too much to handle. So to clarify, my research indicates that anxiety positively affects performance, but if there is too much it can unfortunately be transferred into a negative. Again it all depends on the individual's perception of competitive anxiety. To conclude my argument, I have been drawn to believe that each athlete needs to find their prime intensity level of anxiety that is most optimal to their performance. Once they reach this optimal level their performance in sport will only continue to improve. I will end with a quote from Ed Moses, Olympic gold medallist in the 400m hurdles, which reads "the way I get the best out is by not expecting an easy race. It's easier when there's pressure" (Woods, 1998, p93). It seems that without some anxiety, a performer is not able to exceed their potential in a given sport. ...read more.

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