Case study of pre-competition anxiety
and psychological interventions
Approximately 12 months ago I was contacted by Alice, a 17-year-old elite swimmer, who thought that she might benefit from some psychological help with regards to her pre-competition anxiety. She said that recently she has not been able to achieve her personal best times in high level competition, in which she is a favourite to win. We agreed to meet to discuss possibilities. At the first meeting I confirmed that it was psychological, rather than a technical problem, and that it was anxiety related to pre competition. Alice assured me that her strokes technique was as good as ever, but she often has bad starts off the block due to her ‘inability to get in the zone’. She identified that this generally only occurs in larger, more important competitions like nationals rather than local or state competitions. At the end of the first meeting we discussed both of our goals. I wanted to ensure that I did not promise too much and to understand Alice’s expectations of the help she might get out of this. Alice was happy to work with me on the basis that I had limited consultancy in sport but was willing to apply my knowledge and skills to that sport. The potential benefit for Alice was that she could learn something about sports psychology and hopefully resolve some if not all of her pre competition anxiety. Before the second meeting I located many published articles on anxiety in swimmers and went armed with ideas and work sheets for Alice to complete and reflect upon in relation to pre-competition anxiety, in competition coping and mental skills training. I showed her some information on techniques that might be useful to us for example Harmison (2011) Peak Performance in Sport: Identifying Ideal Performance States and Developing Athletes’ Psychological Skills. At the end of the session Alice took home a number of questionnaires for completion and further discussion. It was in the third session that I observed training footage of Alice leaving the block in comparison to footage from the national competition that she had just completed. It was apparent that Alice didn’t look as focused or ‘in the Zone’ as she did in training. It was then that we discussed the idea of visualisation/imagery as a possible intervention with an individual zone of functional profile to help Alice identify what her zone was and also to hopefully improve her time off the block. The Theory
When trying to explain ‘What is pre-competition anxiety effect on performance?’ it is important to understand how the presenting problem is understood in sport psychology. There are two types of anxiety, which are state and trait anxiety. Trait anxiety (‘A-trait’) is a personality trait and is an athlete’s predisposition to perceive situations as threatening or non-threatening. State anxiety (‘A-state’) refers to the emotional response of the athlete to a particular situation. This response might be fear, worry, tension, nervousness or apprehension. The importance of the situation to the individual and the uncertainty of the outcome of the situation directly impact on state anxiety (Weinberg, & Gould, 2011). Competition anxiety is a form of state anxiety. Martens and his colleagues (In press as cited Burton, 1988) went further with the multidimensional conceptualization of anxiety by separating the global construct of competitive anxiety into cognitive and somatic components. Cognitive anxiety is caused by negative expectations about success or negative self-evaluation, whereas somatic anxiety is directly related to autonomic arousal. Simply put, Cognitive anxiety is the mental component whereas Somatic is the physiological or affective component of anxiety. Cognitive anxiety is characterized by worry, negative self-talk, and unpleasant visual imagery, whereas somatic anxiety is reflected in such responses as rapid heart rate,...
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