Based on your reading of Chapter 6 from Anshel’s , as well a…

Based on your reading of Chapter 6 from Anshel’s , as well as reviewing the workbook, describe how higher levels of stress can affect an athlete’s ability to perform optimally during a key competition. Can you think of any examples of athletes in recent history who have experienced high levels of stress off the field that could have impacted his or her ability to perform at a consistently high level in their sport?

Introduction

Stress plays a significant role in an athlete’s performance during key competitions. Heightened levels of stress can have detrimental effects on an athlete’s ability to perform optimally. This paper will examine the impact of stress on athletes and provide examples of athletes in recent history who have experienced high levels of stress off the field, which may have affected their performance in their respective sports.

Effects of Higher Levels of Stress on Athlete Performance

When an athlete experiences high levels of stress, it activates the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which triggers a physiological and psychological cascade of events. In response to stress, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol, which can impair cognitive functions and contribute to physical and mental fatigue (Anshel, 2006). These physiological changes can directly hinder an athlete’s ability to perform optimally during a key competition.

One of the primary ways stress can impact an athlete’s performance is through its effects on attention and concentration. High levels of stress can lead to increased distractibility and decreased ability to maintain focus, leading to lapses in attention during critical moments of competition (Anshel, 2006). This can result in decreased accuracy, slower decision-making, and a decreased ability to execute skills effectively. For example, a tennis player experiencing high levels of stress may struggle to maintain focus and make errors in judging the speed and trajectory of the ball, resulting in missed shots.

Additionally, stress can affect an athlete’s physical performance. When stress levels are elevated, muscles can become tense and coordination may be compromised (Anshel, 2006). This can impact an athlete’s ability to execute precise movements and perform at their usual level of skill. For instance, a gymnast under significant stress may struggle to perform complex maneuvers with the necessary precision and grace, leading to lower scores and potentially increased risk of injury.

Furthermore, stress can also influence an athlete’s arousal levels, which can impact their performance. A certain level of arousal is necessary for optimal athletic performance. However, excessive stress can lead to over-arousal, resulting in heightened anxiety, nervousness, and an unsteady emotional state (Anshel, 2006). This can interfere with an athlete’s ability to access their physical abilities and make clear, confident decisions during competition.

Examples of Athletes Experiencing High Levels of Stress off the Field

In recent history, several notable athletes have experienced high levels of stress off the field, which potentially impacted their performance on it. One such example is the golfer Tiger Woods. In 2009, Woods’ extramarital affairs were made public, leading to intense scrutiny and media attention. This unprecedented level of stress off the field coincided with a decline in his performance on the golf course. Woods went from being the dominant golfer in the world, consistently winning tournaments, to struggling with his game and failing to achieve the same level of success (Fullerton & Dixon, 2012). The negative impact of the stress caused by his personal life challenges on his athletic performance was evident.

Another example is the tennis player Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open in 2021 citing mental health reasons. Osaka’s decision came after she received backlash for opting not to participate in press conferences, citing concerns for her mental well-being. The pressure and stress from media scrutiny, combined with the high stakes of a major tournament, likely contributed to her decision to prioritize her mental health over her athletic performance (Anderson & Hackett, 2021).

Conclusion

It is clear that higher levels of stress can significantly impact an athlete’s ability to perform optimally during key competitions. The physiological and psychological effects of stress can impair attention, coordination, and decision-making abilities, leading to decreased performance. Furthermore, examples from athletes such as Tiger Woods and Naomi Osaka demonstrate how high levels of stress off the field can impact an athlete’s performance on it. Recognizing and effectively managing stress is crucial for athletes to perform at consistently high levels during competitions.