An investigation into effects and implications of anxiety, in relation to the standard of performance in the sport of football.

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STUDY AND RESEARCH METHODS                                                                                                                                      Z0213451

An investigation into effects and implications of anxiety, in relation to the standard of performance in the sport of football.


According to Lane et al (1999) anxiety is one of the most frequently investigated aspects of sports psychology and this is not surprising since anxiety has been proven to have direct influences upon performance, and so controlling anxiety can enhance performance, definitely an advantage in the world of competitive sport. All athletes are susceptible to the influence of anxiety but this project focuses upon soccer players in particular.

 Anxiety can be classified into two categories, trait anxiety, which is general anxiety and state anxiety, which is situational. People with high levels of trait anxiety are anxious in a lot of situations in life, not just under specific circumstances, while state-anxiety is related to an individual or specific situation. Lane et al (1999) also suggest that anxiety is multi-dimensional in its structure, containing both cognitive and somatic components. They explain that cognitive anxiety can occur through media such as negative thoughts, negative self images and self doubt while somatic anxiety can be represented through tense muscles, increased heart rate and sweaty/clammy skin.

Anxiety affects almost all performers, but can affect different performers differently. Work by many investigative sports psychologists including Langer and Imber (1979), Masters (1992) and Hardy et al (1996) suggests that anxiety leads to decrements in performance due to attention focus being diverted, in relation to cognitive effects, and due to tense, rigid muscles in relation to somatic effects.

A substantial understanding of anxiety is imperative for sports psychologists, whose role it is to provide suitable and well-timed procedures in order to mentally prepare athletes for the next performance (Hanton et al 2002), especially in the world of professional soccer. The findings from this research project will aid the understanding sports psychologists have of competitive anxiety and how it affects different athletes. Hopefully they will use the information to make their methods of mentally preparing athletes for competition more effective.

The aims of this research project relate to the comparison of elite and non-elite performers and to do this, two sample populations were used. People who play university football were investigated as an elite population, and those who play college football the non-elite. The first aim of the project was to determine if the two subject populations experience different levels of anxiety before and during a football match, and secondly whether the levels of anxiety related to the level of performance standard. Do those playing high-level sport suffer higher levels of anxiety or lower levels? Another aim was to highlight the effects of anxiety that influence both populations, and to determine if there are any differences. Other objectives include determining if there are any differences in the timing of anxious feelings, and the duration of anxious sensations.


Traditional research into competitive anxiety has conveyed the notion of performance decrements in relation to anxious athletes. Deikman (1966) used the phrase ‘de-automatization’ to describe how performers can ‘choke under pressure’, and later work by Langer and Imber (1979) further explained this idea by saying that athletes who consciously focus their attention on processing and performing a skill disrupt the natural performance of this skill and hence do not perform the skill to the level they normally would. Therefore ‘de-automatization’ led to the natural performance being affected with too much attention focused upon the process of a skill leading to other factors of performance being neglected, for example environmental cues such as the opposition’s position. Masters (1992) later attributed ‘de-automatization’ to competitive state anxiety. He suggested explicit knowledge of a skill in situations of high anxiety leads to ‘de-automatization’ and therefore decreased level of performance. Many sports psychologists believe that athletes regress a level in terms of Fitt’s and Posner’s (1966) ‘Stages of Learning Model’. This model has three stages, the first stage being the cognitive stage where individuals are learning the skill. They have to concentrate very hard upon the processing and execution of skills and do so with limited success. The second stage is the associative stage which involves a higher success rate as individuals become more fluent in the decision making and execution, and the autonomous stage is the final stage where individuals can automatically execute the skills from stored motor programmes they have developed. The autonomous stage brings much higher success rates. Athletes do not have to be considered elite to reach the autonomous stage of learning, they simply have to be able to process and execute skills without having to consciously focus. Elite athletes will however, be at the autonomous stage for more skills than non-elite. Anxiety is considered to cause a regress from one stage to the previous and so athletes of all abilities are susceptible to the effects of anxiety. Mullen and Hardy (2000) support this claim by saying that anxious athletes re-invest in knowledge base and control strategies associated with novice performers. Mullen and Hardy (2000) related this notion to Eysenck’s Processing Efficiency Theory (1992) that states anxiety can cause worry, which in turn has two major influences on performance. Firstly, increased effort affects processing efficiency and secondly, working memory is neglected somewhat which limits the resources usually required to complete the task. Understanding the effects of anxiety can aid the understanding of causes and can aid the identification of anxiety in athletes. Therefore, the above literature from Langer and Imber (1979), Deikman (1966), Masters (1992), Fitts and Posner (1967), Mullen and Hardy (2000) and Eysenck (1992) all has direct implications upon this project. One of the aims of this project is to identify differences in anxiety levels and effects upon elite and non-elite performers and so it is imperative to understand what the effects and symptoms of anxiety actually are. Their research combined with the interviews will allow more relevant questions to be developed for the questionnaires.

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More recent research by Jones and Hanton (2001) does however state that not all anxiety is bad. This is supported by Martens et al (1990), who claim that ‘directional perception’ influences whether anxiety is facilitative or debilitative. If athletes interpret anxiety as being useful then it will be and if they see it as a problem, it will become one. Jones and Hanton (2001) believe elite athletes express more facilitative directional perceptions than non-elite and so they can use anxiety to benefit their performance. Jones (1995) contradicts these thoughts though and claims anxiety can never be facilitative and any facilitative ...

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