performing under pressure

MENTAL HEALTH IN SPORTS Humans performing under pressure

Born to run not to perform

In the best-selling book, “Born to Run,” author Christopher McDougall has reframed the debate about the wisdom of distance running. He makes the case that running isn’t inherently risky. Instead, he argues that the commercialization of urban marathons encourages overzealous training, while the promotion of high-tech shoes has led to poor running form and a rash of injuries. source

Performing under pressure

The 4 sources of stress impacting elite sport stars according to their testimonies after a break down.

Artistic performance

Personal life “performance”

Physical performance

Mediatical performance

“I spent my career surviving the pressure I put on myself” Jonny Wilkinson

Stress can improve sport performance

Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson developed a first version of the pressure performance curve back in 1908. They used it to show the relationship between arousal (pressure) and performance for Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Even elite sport stars need resting time (without stress) Both workload and fatigue impair performance, and a high workload can lead to an increase in fatigue.

2 studies explored workload and fatigue, and their impact on performance. - Study 1 examined the risk factors for fatigue and the outcomes of it in relation to the rail industry. The results showed that workload is one of several predictors of fatigue. - In Study 2 an online test integrating a single-item subjective measure and objective cognitive tests was used to examine the association between workload, fatigue and performance. Workload was found to be a factor that increased fatigue, which then resulted in a change in performance. source

To avoid choking under pressure What makes an elite sports star suddenly unable to do the very thing they have been practising for years?

Failure to manage stress and cope with the demands at a crucial moment can lead to a catastrophic drop in performance, known as choking.

How Elite Athletes Are Made by A Mark Williams

Blaming kills !

“ Blaming kills productivity because it diverts energy away from the important work of delivering the vision to unproductive work, such as defending yourself, playing politics, inventing proof, worrying, stress, distracted thought patterns, gossip and extra-long breaks to ruminate on the problem of being blamed”. Tim Taylor, making great leaders

Blamed by others

Blaming one self

Mindfulness and acceptance based approaches

Be mindful of yourself

Discipline yourself

If something annonces itself to you, just fix it

Focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.

Mindfulness- and acceptance-based approaches are gaining momentum with sport psychology practitioners who work to support elite athletes. These third wave cognitive behavioral approaches in sport psychology highlight that thought suppression and control techniques can trigger a metacognitive scanning process, and that excessive cognitive activity and task-irrelevant focus (self-focused attention such as trying to change thoughts) disrupts performance. source

Mental preparation to cope under pressure

Self improvement against others (competition)

Self accomplishment with others (belonging)

Pave your own way, play nicely and enjoy the game

Beat the best and become a champion

Personal development consists of activities that develop a person's capabilities and potential through stress. However most successful people are in tune with their environment and alert to the thoughts, sentiments and feelings of other individuals around us. That’s what self accomplishment is : feeling at the right place in the world. Our brain is built to help you survive. To do so, it has to find ways to reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty carries the risk of danger, sending your body into “fight or flight” mode at the first sign of a threat. source

Self talk as a coping strategy

Self-talk is often used to motivate and enhance confidence levels in athletes prior to or during a sporting situation (Hall, 2009). Much research has focused on the comparisons between positive and negative self-talk. A series of studies have found that positive self-talk “enhances performance through increases in confidence and anxiety control.” (Hamilton, 2007, p. 227). Whereas negative self-talk is viewed as being inappropriate and counterproductive (Shaw, 2005). Contrary to this, a study by Morgan (2010) found a positive correlation between negative self-talk and an increase of performance. source


Imagery coping strategies


Imagery is a form of cognitive restructuring. Murphy, Nordin and Cumming (2008) said that imagery can aid learning and performance, support important psychological qualities such as self-confidence, and is characteristic of high-level performance. source

Anxiety uses up attention and working memory, hindering performance

Anxiety is a constant emotional stress

Anxiety is different from stress, it is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don't go away even in the absence of a stressor.

Anxiety is conceived as a response of the body, confronted with environmental demands. The state of anxiety is linked to the perception of a threat as a result of the evaluation of the current situation as dangerous, physically or psychologically. source Anxiety is emotional experience (state-like, trait-like and meta-experience). People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles, and difficulty sleeping. source

Intensity of anxiety is used as criteria of evaluation.

Fear of results is feeding anxiety

The perception of the threat depends on two independent representations : the importance of the result, and the uncertainty of the result

The emotional response from anxiety stems from the perception of a discrepancy (imbalance) between the difficulty of the task and the response capacities. This response would also depend on the importance of success or failure for the subject: the perception of a subjective discrepancy between difficulty and ability only has an anxiety-provoking character if achieving the result represents a real challenge. for the subject. Martens, Vealey and Burton (1990) anxiety in athletes.

…to reflect on emotions and actions outcomes

Guidelines for anxiety-centered coping are proposed with the emphasis on emotion- and action-focused strategies that affect situational emotional experiences accompanying performance. The Identification-Control-Correction (ICC) program (Hanin & Hanina, 2009a,b) provides the step-wise procedures to optimize the process of task execution. Successful action-focused coping is reflected in emotion dynamics signaling a shift from the dysfunctional to functionally optimal person-environment (P-E) interactions. Both reactive and anticipatory coping strategies are relevant to achieve an optimal balance between current (or anticipated) task demands and personal resources. source

Behavioral therapy against anxiety Sport psychology researcher, Dr Faye Didymus, worked with four high-level female hockey players over nine months, using a CBT technique called cognitive restructuring to help them identify what put them under pressure, understand how they responded emotionally, and then consider more helpful alternative responses. The results were immediate: things that they had viewed as threats, players began to see instead as challenges, resulting in more positive emotions and higher satisfaction with their performance. source

Behavioral therapy to face reality

CBT will aid the person in identifying what could be considered automatic negative thoughts, which influence mood and mindset. These thoughts seem to be automatic and impulsive. But through CBT, people can discern said thoughts and restructure them into a more realistic and positive train of thought. CBT techniques for anxiety modify the ramifications of anxiety-riddled thoughts into realistic, objective, and helpful outcomes. Though it was originally designed to treat depression, its uses have been expanded to include the treatment of a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety, alcohol and drug use problems source

Contextual behavioral therapy ( CBT )

A preventive practice to increase performance The athlete should reflect after each session as this may induce a positive mental state. The practitioner should recreate a competitive environment and project himself (Shaw, 2005). By doing this the athlete will be more prepared to deal with situations he/she they try to hide from.


What’s next ?

The emotions carousel is designed to

address anxiety : from eco anxiety to performance anxiety in sports. A tool to be used to increase team performance in companies.

More info

Discovery sessions in french

Le regard du Cygne Déc 2022 et Février 2023

Jérémy Dumont, planneur stratégique @ pourquoitucours, fondateur de Nous Sommes Vivants

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