This article provides an overview of the study of competitive stress in sport, as well as definitions and descriptions of the constructs of emotional arousal, stress, and anxiety (including state and trait anxiety). Competitive stress, or sport performance anxiety, is defined and discussed in terms the factors that contribute to anxiety in pre-competition, during competition and post-competition. The impact of sport performance anxiety can be detrimental to the athlete's ability and desire to continue sport participation as well as contribute to their enjoyment of their sport involvement. Suggestions are provided for coaches and administrators to assist in reducing stress in student athletes.
Keywords Activation; Anxiety; Arousal; Competition; Process Model of Stress; Reversed-Dependency Phenomenon; Sport Performance Anxiety; State Anxiety (A-State); Stress Anxiety; Stress; Stressors; Trait Anxiety (A-Trait)
Physical Education: Competitive Stress
The study of competitive stress, or emotional arousal within the sport domain is part of exercise and sport science, more specifically, sport psychology. Scholars in the field of sport psychology began talking about emotional arousal when Coleman Griffith, when Father of North American Sport Psychology, wrote about how to mentally prepare teams for performance and competition as well as how to manage and create methods for dealing with those athletes that experience anxiety surrounding competition (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). In the1960's discussion began to emerge on the topic of the optimal level of arousal and what level of arousal is conducive to obtaining one's best performance (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). These discussions and ensuing research led to the development of the Inverted-U hypothesis; however, within the last 15 years criticism of this hypothesis has emerged as scholars came to believe anxiety is a multi-dimensional construct rather than a one-dimensional construct (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002).
Arousal is defined as "an energizing function that is responsible for harnessing of the body's resources for intense and vigorous activity" (Landers & Boutcher, 1998, p. 198) and utilizes both psychological and physiological energy systems (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002; Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). Arousal represents the intensity dimension of behavior, which can vary on a continuum from "deep sleep to peak excitement" (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002, p.502). Physiological arousal can be measured in a number of ways, including the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, electromyography, levels of epinephrine, and galvanic skin response (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). Historically arousal has been viewed as a unitary construct that was an indication of how "activated a performer is at a given moment in time" (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002, p.208); however, activation is no longer viewed as the same as arousal. Activation is known as the condition that reflects the anticipatory response to readiness, whereas arousal is defined as the response that happens in an instantaneous response or moment to a new stimulus (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). Keeping in mind this updated view of arousal, optimal or peak performance occurs when a performer is aptly activated and arousal does not hinder the activation level (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002).
Within sport psychology, stress is defined as "a substantial imbalance between (environmental) demand and response capability, under conditions in which failure to meet the demand has important consequences" (McGrath, 1970, p. 20). Stress can also be defined as "a cognitive-affective response involving appraisal of threat and increased physiological arousal" (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002, p. 502). These environmental demands are called stressors. Stress is not always negative, as eustress (positive or "good" stress) and distress (negative or "bad" stress) have also been identified and defined (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). McGrath (1970) proposed a process model of stress that includes four stages. Stage 1 is the onset of the environmental demand (stressor), which leads to Stage 2 and involves the athlete's perception of the environmental demand. Stage 3 reflects the athlete's response to the demand (e.g., physiological arousal, anxiety) and Stage 4 is the resulting behavior or performance (Gould, Greenleaf, & Krane, 2002). Stress is often used inappropriately as being interchangeable with anxiety. It is important to clearly define and understand both terms separately.
Anxiety in Athletics
Gould, Greenleaf and Krane (2002) define anxiety as "feelings of nervousness and tension associated with activation or arousal of the organism" (p. 209). Anxiety is a complex construct in that it is one type of stress response that includes the emotional response and motivation to avoid the threatening environmental demand (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). In sport psychology, anxiety is typically measured with self-report anxiety inventories; however there is concern that this type of measure lends itself to susceptibility to social desirability. Therefore, it has been recommended that researchers administer a social desirability scale along with the anxiety measures (Gould, Greenleaf, Krane, 2002). There are four distinctions that have been made regarding the construct of anxiety, including: state-trait distinction, general versus situation specific anxiety, cognitive versus somatic anxiety, and debilitative versus facilitative anxiety (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002).
State anxiety (A-state) is defined as an emotional state that is "characterized by subjective, consciously perceived feelings of apprehension and tension, accompanied by or associated with activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system" (Spielberger, 1966, p. 17) and varies over time or from moment to moment. State anxiety is considered a temporary emotional state (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). When an individual is experiencing no anxiety response, he or she will be both physiologically and psychologically calm. An individual who is experiencing a moderate level of anxiety will typically experience worry, tension, nervousness; whereas an individual experiencing very high level of anxiety will experience fear, high physiological arousal, and possibly have catastrophic cognitions. Conversely, trait anxiety (A-trait) is defined as "a motive or acquired behavioral disposition that predisposes an individual to perceive a wide range of objectively non-dangerous circumstances as threatening and to respond to these with state anxiety reactions disproportionate in intensity to the magnitude of the objective danger" (Spielberger, 1966, p. 17).
Trait anxiety is a personality trait and is fairly stable over time (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). To make the distinction between general and situation specific anxiety, state anxiety refers to anxiety that is experienced during specific situations and trait anxiety is measured as a global or general anxiety that is experienced across all situations or in a specific situation (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). Anxiety is multidimensional in that there are cognitive and physiological (somatic) components (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). The cognitive component of anxiety involves the individual making negative assessments about a particular environmental demand and the ability to meet that demand, which results in nervousness, worry, tension or negative mental imagery (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). On the other hand, the physiological or somatic component of anxiety is reflected in changes in the individual's respiratory rate, muscular tension, or heart rate (Smith, Smoll, & Passer, 2002). The final distinction to be made about the construct of anxiety...
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