With the racing season coming into full tilt, there is one topic that no one typically wants to talk about: performance anxiety and stress. One of the reasons we all avoid the subject is that we look at it as a monster rather than a friend. Most people also look at stress and anxiety as an abnormal behavior or state. In reality, stress is a normal part of daily life and should be expected.
This all was reiterated to me this past weekend as I completed my Level 2 Paratriathlon focus certification, and one of the presenters was Amanda Leibovitz. Amanda is someone I know well from coaching and paratriathlon in the past, but her area of expertise is in Sports and Performance Psychology. At this clinic, she did a fantastic job breaking down the topics of stress, adaptive coping, self-regulation, state anxiety, and how the body physiologically responds during each of these situations.
Before I give just a bit more application into these areas, let's define a few terms:
Stressor: Anything that you perceive, sense, or imagine that can do you harm. These can be physical, social, emotional, or occupational.
Stress: A person's physical or emotional response to a stressor. Stress is an expected part of life and is necessary for growth and learning. It becomes problematic when the cycle is interrupted. (2022 EPIC WELLNESS & PERFORMANCE PLLC11
Self-Regulation: The ability to amp up or amp down to get into the optimal state for performance. In order to be able to do this, you have to have a level of understanding of attention and awareness of your present situation (mindfulness).
Adaptive Coping: Strategies that have been found to be effective in dealing with the stressors.
State Anxiety: State anxiety refers to anxiety that arises in a particular situation. Everyone experiences state anxiety, but the stimulus can vary. In sports, state anxiety may occur when an athlete is in a high-pressure situation and is called upon to perform. State anxiety is important in sports to maximize performance, but each individual person has an optimal level.
The real-life application of the basic terms above can seem overwhelming and beyond your own ability alone to deal with. The primary purpose of writing this blog was to help change people's perspectives on stress and anxiety and offer comfort and knowledge that stress is normal and expected.
We must first determine the stressor that is bringing on the stress response and then work to find coping strategies to control the stress and anxiety to maximal level for optimal performance.
I am no expert, nor do I have the credentials to practice Sports Performance Psychology, but I have had a Sports Performance Psychology expert on my team while competing and have experienced the effectiveness that it can have on each one of us.
If you are reading this blog and know that performance anxiety is a limiting factor to your race-day performance, I would highly recommend adding a Sports Performance Psychology expert to your performance team--or at least reading some books out there on optimizing state anxiety for sports performance and adaptive coping strategies to develop the ability to self-regulate your state anxiety.
You may also want to discuss any signs or triggers that they may notice that impact your state anxiety with your coach. Most coaches are not experts in this area, but we all should realize that sports performance is a team effort, and mental state is a significant part of the preparation for maximal performance.
Aaron Scheidies is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and licensed Physical Therapist. A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Exercise Physiology, Aaron has coached World Champion Paratriathletes as well as Ironman World Championship qualifiers. Aaron is an 11 time World Paratriatlhon Champion and has set the World’s fastest time for anyone with a disability at both the Olympic (1:57:24) and Ironman 70.3 distances. (4:09:54).