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Essay Example on Cognitive Anxiety in Athletics

7 pages
1706 words
Sewanee University of the South
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Performers and coaches have evaluated the effect of anxiety on sports performance and found that practitioners need to be aware of the anxiety related symptoms for excellent performance (Mottaghi, Atarodi, & Rohani, 2013, p.68). Building awareness is an effective way of training for the coaches concerning anxiety related issues. Athletics as a sports activity, it involves track and field events, jumping, throwing, cross country, and race walking. Participants have different experiences before and during the event where some athletes are observed to panic, falls, and others get injuries (Parnabas, Wahidah, Abdullah, Mohamed, Parnabas, & Mahamood, 2014). Anxiety in sports has two distinct aspects namely the trait and situational specific anxiety. Concerning trait anxiety, it involves the inner characteristics of an individual, for instance, the tendency of running before the competition. Most people are born with a trait anxiety. Concerning situational specific anxiety, it is related to the event whereby a performer feels anxious when participating in the competition. Cognitive (mental) anxiety, therefore, is a mechanism related to the aspects of anxiety. According to Martens, Burton and Vealey, (1995), Cognitive Anxiety (CA) is a mental state manifested with symptoms such as confusion, indecision, poor concentration, loss of confidence, and images of failure. Anxiety in sports has a variety of causes including the fear of bad performance, the competition from the event, and also fearing an injury may occur during the event. Theories and models have explained the relationship between anxiety and performance with different conclusions. These include the Drive theory by Zajanc (1965), Inverted-U hypothesis by Yerkes and Dadson (1908), multi-dimensional theory (Martens, 1990), catastrophe theory (Hardy, 1987), and optimum arousal theory (Hanin, 1997) (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). CA has the can threaten a person's well-being by increasing worries and doubt during the event. The theories have explained how different levels influence the performance and therefore athletes will achieve the best performance at different levels of cognitive therapy.

This essay will evaluate the relationship between Cognitive anxiety and athlete performance through a critical analysis of theories and models underpinning this state. This essay will also examine how different factors influence and impact CA. Finally, the essay will give a conclusion and recommendations regarding the relationship between CA and athlete performance.

Theories and Models Underpinning Cognitive Anxiety

Drive theory

Arousal has been described as the general physical and psychological activity while anxiety is negative emotional state manifested by worries, nervousness, and apprehension that activates the body (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). According to the Drive Theory, high levels of anxiety are associated with higher performance. This theory has supported that anxiety will stimulate the body for the better performance of the athletes. According to Gill, Williams, and Reifsteck (2017), it is expected that athletes driven by cognitive anxiety will perform well in the athletic events.

Inverted U hypothesis

Another theory is the Inverted-U hypothesis. According to Yerkes and Dodson, (1908), an increase in the cognitive anxiety is associated with increased performance up to a certain point, and once the levels of CA go beyond this point, it affects the overall performance (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). The inverted-U hypothesis has used a graphical illustration to explain how the CA affects athletes' performances. The arousal is, a pre-event condition, and most of the athletes experience the state. At first, the levels of anxiety are low and this equivalent to days or many hours before the event.

Fig 1: (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213)

The levels keep on increasing that is manifested by increasing attention and interest. From the graph above, at the optimal arousal, the individual is expected to have a maximum performance during the activity. The performance will be impaired with an increase in anxiety beyond the optimal point. This theory is contrary to the Drive theory which states that athletes with high levels of anxiety will perform well (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213).

Multi-dimensional theory

According to Martens, (1990), the theory posits that individuals with anxious thoughts will end up having a poor performance (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). Anxiety felt by the body has a significant effect on the performance just like postulated in the inverted-U hypothesis. This theory has also focused on the distinction between somatic and cognitive anxiety. In his theory, the somatic anxiety is believed to decline once the performance kicks off but for cognitive anxiety, it remains high when the athlete has low confidence. This theory has a contradiction regarding its conclusion as compared to other theories (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213).

Catastrophe theory

According to Hardy, (1987), this theory supports that stress in addition to cognitive and somatic anxiety significantly affects the performance of the athlete (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). The influence is quite different and varies from one person to the other. The conclusion of this theory posits that it is difficult to predict the outcome regarding the influence of cognitive anxiety on sports performance. This theory has contradicted the others, but from the conclusion, we expect that athletes with anxiety will perform differently (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213).

Optimum arousal theory

The optimum arousal theory by Hanin, (1997), defended that every athlete is expected to perform at their best within an optimum zone (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213). This theory has put forward the idea that levels of anxiety will influence the performance. This theory has also supported the inverted-U theory whereby the optimum performance is experienced at the optimum levels of anxiety. If the athlete is overwhelmed with high levels of anxious thoughts (worry), the individual is expected to perform best at the medium levels of arousal although there is a breaking point where the performance decreases dramatically (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213).

From the theoretical implications, it is clear that cognitive anxiety influences athlete performance. Although the theories don't have a universal agreement regarding their conclusions, they have given an insight that athletes will have different performance according to their levels and states of cognitive anxiety. The manifestations of cognitive anxiety in athletes can be grouped into two categories namely pleasant and exciting and unpleasant and anxious. Pleasant and excitement are rare as observed when coaching. During the competition, every participant is expected to be anxious about the event unlike other times of practice. Most athletes will, therefore, experience unpleasant and anxious anxiety concerning their performance. Confusion and fear of failure is a common state, but as supported by the inverted-U theory, too much fear may contribute to panic thus leading to poor performance. At the optimum level of anxiety that is associated with the best performance, the athlete presents with alertness because the anxiety at this time has stimulated the body to take part in the event. At this time, the athlete may seem excited and expected to do best during the event. When coaching, athletes are given a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that involves talking to the athlete and preparing them psychologically to help them get rid of the emotional feelings that may affect their performance. CBT as a coaching tool provides an understanding that our emotions and thoughts are linked to the behaviour. The field events are quite challenging and therefore, preparing the participants both mentally and physically is an essential requirement for a coach (Gill, Williams, & Reifsteck, 2017, p.213).

From the conclusions provided by the various theories, the essay will rely on inverted-U hypothesis, multi-dimensional anxiety theory, and Optimum arousal theory. The three theories support the coaching experience, and they have given a common conclusion. The practicability of the theories above is observed in athletes. Most of the athletes present with an inverted-U behaviour regarding their anxious status which is observed during a competition. Negative anticipations about the event affect most of the athletes by filling them with negative perceptions which are a manifestation of cognitive anxiety. It is right to support that cognitive anxiety influences performance, and in athletes, much of anxiety can cause confusion and loss of confidence. CA, therefore, can increase or impair the performance of an athlete if they inadequately prepared. Through cognitive talk, the coaching career enhances a better understanding of the emotions thus facilitating a positive perception of the event.

Factors That Influence and Impact Cognitive Anxiety in Athletes


Anxiety in the competitive context has been framed in a multidimensional perspective. According to the multi-dimensional anxiety theory, CA, there is a positive correlation between somatic and cognitive anxiety, and they have a negative correlation with self-confidence. Self-confidence, therefore, is a factor that influences and impacts CA in one way or the other. In a study by Fernandes, Fernandes, Nunes, and Vasconcelos-Raposo (2013), high levels of confidence are correlated with low levels cognitive anxiety. Self-confidence provides an implication that the individual is ready and fully prepared for the event. This factor varies among people, and it can be used to categorize the levels of cognitive anxiety. An athlete with low self-confidence has fear, confusion, and indecision episodes which is a reflection of high levels of CA. At a medium level of self-confidence, the athlete experience less fear and they present with excitement although anxious for the competition. The coaches have used confidence to reduce cognitive anxiety in athletes. By improving the self-confidence through coaching and cognitive talking, the coaches can increase their self-confidence thus mitigating the impact of cognitive anxiety on performance. Athletes with high competitive experience have been shown to have a low level of cognitive anxiety as well high levels of self-confidence (Fernandes et al., 2013, pp.705).

Competitive Experience

Competitive experience is also a factor that influences and impact cognitive anxiety. Competition causes athletes to react mentally (cognitive) in a manner which negatively affects their performance abilities (Martens, Burton, and Vealey, 1995, p.132). During the competition, the mind is found to work against the personal abilities which may lead to anxiety symptoms. Cognitive anxiety, therefore, acts as an interference of performance and most of the athletes who are new to the competition have a low competitive experience which leads to arousal and anxiety. Competitive experience is also believed to build self-confidence in athletes which positively promotes their performance by reducing the cognitive anxiety. The positive correlation between competitive experience and self-confidence influences and impacts the levels of cognitive and somatic anxiety. Again, most of the theories have supported the idea that certain levels of stress are associated with high performance as founded by the inverted-U theory. With competitive experience, it helps in maintaining the standards of anxiety by not...

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