Anxiety can be defined as a ‘subjective feeling of apprehension or perceived threat , sometimes accompanied by heightened physiological arousal.’ No matter the skill level of an athlete, prior to an event they will experience a certain degree of anxiety regarding their performance.
Anxiety is suggested to have two components cognitive. Somatic anxiety can be observed in the form of physiological responses such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure or sweating. Theses are the body’s natural responses to increased arousal the ‘fight or flight’ idea. Anxiety has been linked to an unpleasant feeling. Eysenck (1992) suggested that the purpose of anxiety was to help detect danger or threat in potentially threatening environments and is linked to arousal. Anxiety is therefore an essential part of an individual’s physiological make up and can be beneficial before an event as it increases arousal and therefore the body’s readiness for the task.
Various theories to explain why anxiety may be experienced have been suggested and the effect it may have on a sporting performer.
Eysenck suggested a theory of state and trait anxiety. State anxiety refers to the worry or feeling nervous as a result of increased arousal when faced with certain situations. It was suggested that individuals feel very anxious in certain activities but not anxious at all in others. It also suggested that an individual’s anxiety level can rise from situation to situation as well as at different times within that situation. For example when defending a corner in the last minute of a game that you are winning 1-0 your state anxiety will increase. State anxiety can be either cognitive or somatic with somatic state anxiety being how an individual perceives their level of physiological arousal. Cognitive state anxiety is related to how an individual perceives arousal mentally whether they use it positively or negatively.
Trait anxiety however is a general tendency of a person to become worried or anxious and is a stable characteristic. An individual with a high level of trait anxiety will tend to experience high and often disproportionate levels of arousal very quickly. It was found they tend to over react to situations that the high majority of people would not view as threatening. This trait theory has been linked to an individual’s cognitive interpretation of arousal and therefore how that effects their somatic arousal.
Orlick (1986) suggested that if an athlete’s performance suffers it is often a result of too much worry about the outcome of the event. They place too much focus upon winning, leading to increased anxiety which can interfere with their concentration, attention to the task as well as their ability to execute skills properly.
Hanton and Jones (1996) suggested that elite or highly skilled athletes report anxiety to be facilitative to their performance. Where as less skilled athletes may not possess the ability to recognise and use anxiety in a facilitative way due to a lack of experience. Russell and Cox (2000) suggested the fact that highly skilled athletes that performed better when they experienced higher anxiety was owed to them possessing a greater sense of the emotional state linked to optimal performance.
Hanton and Jones (1999) found that elite performers develop strategies over time to interpret pre-competition symptoms of anxiety and can channel then in a positive way. Hanin (1986) proposed that a variation in different athletes levels of state anxiety prior to competition for optimal performance to occur. It was suggested that optimal performance would occur when each athlete’s pre-competition anxiety level reached the individuals optimal level.
Pre-competition individuals can experience very high levels of anxiety not only somatic with increased heart rate,...