Competitive Anxiety Theory Analysis

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Competition can cause athletes to react both physically and mentally in a manner that may negatively affect their performance abilities. Stress, arousal, and anxiety are terms used to describe this condition. Competitive state-anxiety usually follows a pattern of subjective feelings such as tension and inadequacy, combined with heightened arousal of the autonomic nervous system. This anxiety type includes state and trait dimensions both of which can show themselves as cognitive and somatic symptoms. Over the years many distinguished sports psychologists have developed various theories and tests in order to correctly identify competitive anxiety in athletes. These theories and tests have been used in conjunction to understand and measure this particular condition. This paper will present the different theories used by sports psychologists, and will discuss how each new theory has built on the previous one. The different theories and hypothesis that have had the best ability identifying competitive anxiety in athletes are the following: Drive theory, Inverted U- hypothesis, Individual zones of optimal functioning, Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory, Catastrophe Model, and The Reversal Theory. Each of the subsequent theories has built upon the previous one based upon new data and studies performed. The first competitive anxiety theory that Sports psychologists used to diagnose athletes and their symptoms was developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This theory developed for properly diagnosing competitive anxiety was the Drive theory. The Drive theory was thought to have identified a direct linear relationship between arousal and performance. According to the Drive Theory if an athlete is appropriately skilled then this will help them to perform well if their drive to compete is aroused. It was believed that the more “psyched up” an athlete becomes the better that individual will perform, and the opposite effect will be true if the athlete is “psyched out”(Weinberg, 2007). This theory has had very little success in field tests, and very little scholarly support exists to support this theory. This opened the door for the Inverted U- Hypothesis, which answered many of the remaining questions surrounding competition anxiety. Sports psychologists thought that the connection between performance and arousal could be better explained using the Inverted-U hypothesis (McNally, 2002). The Inverted-U hypothesis predicts the relationship between arousal and performance. The theory states that as arousal is increased performance improves up to a certain point referred to as the top of the inverted U. When arousal exceeds this point then performance will diminish. This hypothesis states that an athlete’s best performance could be guaranteed with an average level of arousal. It is important for athletes to consider that if their level of arousal is too low, or too high, poor performance may result. Many sports psychologist however are displeased with the basic nature of the inverted-U Hypothesis (McNally, 2002). This paved the way for a new theory and contrasting model that address the inadequacies of the Inverted-U at measuring competitive anxiety. Yuri Hanin, a Russian sports psychologist from the Research Institute for Olympic Sports out of Finland, suggested a theory that differs from the Inverted-U in a few different ways (Weinberg, 2007). Hanin suggested that all athletes have different performance abilities at their mid point or at the top of the inverted U. Hanin states that some athletes have an optimal functioning zone at the lower end, some in the middle, and some at the upper end of the continuum (Weinberg, 2007). This theory is known as the Individualized zones of optimal functioning (IZOF). According to the IZOF model each athlete will perform at their best if their arousal level or competitive anxiety falls within their optimum functioning zone. If their arousal or competitive anxiety levels fall outside...
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