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Anxiety: Performance Enhancer or Choke Artist

Posted Jan 12 2010 3:10am

The good people at The Hardball Times reached out and asked me to write a post related to the psychology of baseball. Fortunately they gave me carte blanche which allowed me to choose my own topicso I wrote about anxiety as it relates to performace on the field. Below is an excerpt:

“One of the problems with measuring anxiety’s impact on sports performance is that there isn’t a clear consensus on how to precisely define the term ‘anxiety.’ What some describe as “butterflies in the stomach,” others label as an adrenaline rush. Some talk about a fearful voice in their head while others see it as a rapid heart beat. I tell my patients (including ball players) to consider anxiety as having three main components:

1) Physiological (e.g.increased heart ratesweatingmuscle tensionshakinessetc.): some refer to this as an activation of the Fight or Flight response or an increase in adrenaline.

2) Cognitive: this refers to the inner monologue in which we all engage (e.g.if I don’t get on base I’m going to benched next gameI have to K this guy or else he’ll tie it up the score). In anxiety problemsthis self-talk is invariably focused on dangeralthough not necessarily in the traditional sense of being physically harmed. Ratherfor athletes this inner speech is centered around making a mistakecosting the team a gamelosing creditabilitylooking like a fool in front of millions of people. Unless a player’s been beaned with a Randy Johnson fastball and is hesitant to get back in the boxit’s a psychological danger that athletes fear the most.

3) Emotional: this is the subjective feeling of nervousness that each person describes a bit differently (e.g.butterfliesjittersetc.).”

Click here to read the rest of the piece at their excellent site. Alsonote that the information is relevant to many aspects of performance (both physical and psychological)so you don’t need to be a fan of the game to enjoy the piece. And while we all know that baseball is inferior to football in virtually every waydon’t get labeled a Communist by hating on America’s pastime.

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