Go! Go! Go! – What is the anxiety? Do you know? On the influence of the anxiety on the footballers’ effectiveness

The arousal and fear are critical matters when it comes to sport.  Sport events of a great importance put the athletes in a difficult position.  This happens  due to the fact that the competition can cause anxiety  whose intensity depends on the  games’ rank.  UEFA Euro Cup excites not only football fans but also those who are not the everyday sport-geeks.  We can only imagine how strong are the emotions awaken by EURO among the players, who are very much aware of the impact of their effectiveness on the game’s result.

The anxiety can both stimulate and paralyze the player. It goes without saying, that the elevated level of anxiety before and during the match  will negatively affect the  game’s standard. Nevertheless, the dropped level of arousal will not be favourable for the player, as  it is hard to act efficiently without proper motivation and enthusiasm. It triggers the question: what is the exact level of arousal necessary to succeed in sport? In order to provide the answer, the analysis of the anxiety itself is required.

Fear and anxiety

Let’s get acquainted with the difference between fear and anxiety.  Fear is related to the emotional reactions to a specific and visible danger, and it is prone to weaken, or even diminish when the danger vanishes. On the contrary, the anxiety is commonly understood as a mixture of disturbing uncertainty and the anticipation of an unclear and threatening event . We can divide the anxiety into two factors: anxiety – a condition, and anxiety – a feature.  The feature is a fixed and individual tendency to perceive situations as threatening, which results in anxiety. It is related to one’s temper, characterized by shyness, being prone to undertake demanding tasks and to set distant goals, as well as to high ambitions. The people with elevated level of anxiety are more suspicious and likely to perceive the stimuli as a potential danger.  The condition is connected to the subjective  sense of stress and danger, in tandem with hyperactivity of the nervous system. It changes under the influence of threatening factors. It is all reflected in the tendency to react in a manner specific to the anxious situation. The person who perceives a given situation as more difficult one will not be able to take advantage of all accessible skills in order to succeed.  The footballers who treat the opposite team as harder opponents put themselves in a difficult position. They are not able to make use of all their skills because of the anxiety and lack of self-confidence.

Types of anxiety

The anxiety caused by the participation in EURO may manifest itself in the players in various ways. The cognitive anxiety is related to being self-centred and pessimistic expectations and accompanied by a low esteem of oneself and the game result. A symptom of this anxiety can be pre-match irritation and worrying about  the score. Somatic anxiety relates to the physiological processes, and it results in elevated heart beat, muscle contraction and sweating. This type of anxiety appears just before the game, whereas the cognitive anxiety may appear even long  before it. The cognitive anxiety has the biggest impact on the efficiency because its rise above a certain level leads to a significant drop in effectiveness  - excessive worrying for the best result will tragically influence the player’s performance on the pitch.

In order to analyse the relationship between the level of anxiety and completion of the task, it may be helpful to apply the general  law which states that the standard of the task’s execution grows in tandem with the increase in arousal level (anxiety, stress, motivation) but only to a certain, critical point.  When that point is exceeded, the task’s rate starts to drop significantly. This relation can be presented on the graph resembling the reverse “U”. There is an optimal level of arousal for every action, at which the action is the most effective. However, we should keep in mind the task’s difficulty because when it comes to easy tasks the highest efficiency is accomplished through high arousal, whereas the low improves the execution of the most difficult ones. This phenomenon can be explained by the categories of stimuli selection  - the increase in arousal accompanies the narrowing of information channel. A slightly aroused player receives all the information, including the irrelevant,  but when the arousal optimum is exceeded he is not even able to absorb the important one, which has its reflection in the efficiency decrease. The footballers who experience low  arousal  focus their attention on irrelevant aspects of the game, such as cheers or filming cameras.  On the other hand, those who sense strong anxiety cannot receive the relevant information or to focus on the game.

The anxiety’s impact on the action

The action itself is worth analysing. Above all, it should not be treated as a homogeneous act, which would be an oversimplification. The players’ action during the game is a set of physiological processes. Three basic components of movement can be distinguished: perception, decision making, and reaction. High degree of arousal may positively influence only two of the components – it improves perception and the preparation of reaction (activation). At the same time, it deteriorates the decision making, which is often  evident in a situations when we wonder why the player did not react properly, whereas for us the decision would be obvious.

It has been proven that even an extremely intensive anxiety does not have to be negative, but only when it is not frequent or long-lasting. Some people claim that the footballers do not differ when it comes to the level of anxiety, but rather in case of its influence on their own behaviour.  Players who perceive themselves as those who have everything under control treat the anxiety as something positive, contrary to those who lack this conviction.  This attitude fits in the conception of control locus  - athletes with an inner locus of control (those in charge) are dealing with anxiety better than those with the external locus. Basing on the model of individualized spheres of optimal functioning, we can assume that some players will benefit from the anxiety. Every person possesses the anxiety sphere – an individual level of the anxiety’s intensity (which varies from high to low), and under the influence of  which one is able to  act in the most efficient manner.

A wide range of research concerning the relation between the anxiety level and the efficient action has been conducted so far. Many of them have also analysed the influence of the other factors on the anxiety. The footballers who possess the proper skills and are resistant to stress will sense slighter concern and they will interpret the somatic symptoms in a constructive way, which will increase their effectiveness on the pitch.  It turns out that the pre-match anxiety can be decreased by the social support – of  the family, nearest and dearest, manager  or even supporters. Furthermore, the impact of anxiety on the effectiveness is also dependent on the feedback with which the individual provides himself during the task. If the footballer notices the discrepancies between his intended action and the actual one, the anxiety will be one of the results. The conviction that we are able to deal with the anxiety and the proper execution of the task is crucial because the doubt in our effectiveness has even more negative impact. The interpretation of our own arousal is also essential for the quality of the task execution – excessive arousal can be interpret as a pleasant or negative anxiety. On the other hand, low  arousal rate can be perceived as relaxation or even boredom. The action will be more efficient during the pleasant arousal – excitation caused by an important game.

How to deal with stress?

Overcoming stress is inseparably related to the issue of sport anxiety. In the process of players’ training the  competent estimation of  individual anxiety level is  of the high importance. The proper level of arousal  ensures the optimal start and enables the full exploitation of abilities and succeeding. That is why it is advisable to take the proper measures when that level is too low or too high. Depending on the level, we should undertake proper actions. When it comes to players with elevated anxiety level,  breathing exercises and relaxation techniques  are recommended. In case of low anxiety level, the task-oriented strategies  will be the most efficient.  The level increase can be also influenced by the trainers through suitable conversation or  briefing.  The proper warm-up can also both increase and decrease the anxiety level.

It is hard to provide a straightforward answer to the initial question, regarding the arousal level  essential to score the best results. It is because every player has his individual degree of anxiety’s intensity, which enables him to act in the most efficient way, and every action has its optimal arousal level which ensures its most effective execution. This level depends on the task’s difficulty.  Generally speaking, we may say that if footballer rates a given match as hard to win, the low level of arousal will be the most beneficial for him.  When the match appears to him as an easy one – he will thrive on high arousal level, equivalent to sensation of anxiety. However, the increase in the arousal rate above the critical point will result in the match-efficiency loss. The final impact on the action beyond the arousal level consists of the other factors, i.e. individual evaluation of the anxiety’s influence, the awareness of our abilities, stress resistance, social support, the belief in ability to overcome anxiety, and the manner of self-arousal interpretation. 

Tłumaczenie: A. Wieczorek
Koło  Naukowe Anglistów NeoLit

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