Academic journal article The Sport Journal

Implementing a Breathing Technique to Manage Performance Anxiety in Softball

Academic journal article The Sport Journal

Implementing a Breathing Technique to Manage Performance Anxiety in Softball

Article excerpt

Top high school athletes who are recruited to college teams may have seen little--or even no--failure in their athletic careers to that point. But at the college level, there are aspects that separate the good athlete from the great. The separation can be the difference between winning and losing. For some athletes, the first real failure is faced during the freshman year in college. First-year college softball athletes, for instance, may begin to realize that the game is quicker, the opponents are stronger, and their teammates share skills and strengths similar to their own. Some athletes rise to the challenge, while others become anxious and may fail.

It is not uncommon for a coach to witness an athlete succumb to such anxiety. Sometimes, an athlete simply walks to the plate mentally defeated, before a single pitch has been thrown. But coaches strive to prepare all athletes with the skills they need to perform in these situations. So why do some athletes perform well, while others cannot?

Those who perform well manage their emotions in critical situations, in a way that enables them to develop an ideal mental state that fosters maximum performance. During competitions in which they fail to achieve this state, many athletes become victims of their own anxieties. The performance psychologist David Roland defined performance anxiety as stage fright, suggesting artists feel apprehensive about approaching the stage and performing (1997). Athletes may also suffer from stage fright and may experience a debilitating effect on their performance.

Anxiety and Performance

In this study, anxiety is identified specifically as competitive anxiety, anxiety experienced while competing. Anxiety is under the umbrella of arousal, but it is typically associated with negative cognitive thoughts, such as worry or a perception of threat (Gill, 2000; Landers & Arent, 2006). An example might be a field goal kicker who is remembering an earlier missed field goal attempt or a batter who does not want to hit in a close-scoring game. Anxiety is a complex behavior with emotional, mental, and physical dimensions. Typically, anxious individuals experience a variety of bodily and mental symptoms such as loss of concentration, thoughts about failure, agitation, increased breathing (Roland, 1997).

Purpose of Study

Performance anxiety is rarely addressed, though coaches often identify certain athletes as "chokers" under pressure. The current study's purpose, therefore, was to develop a strategy that would guide softball athletes in becoming relatively more aware of their somatic anxiety levels and offer a means of minimizing their performance anxiety.

Methods

Participants

The participants in this study were 4 members of a 2008 NCAA Division I collegiate softball team ranging from 18 to 21 years of age, 2 pitchers and 2 position players. One pitcher was a first-year student; the other 3 athletes were upperclassmen. No participant had prior exposure to or experience with breathing techniques or breathing exercises.

Procedure and Data Collection

The study included three stages. The first stage was completed with an overview of the relationship between performance and anxiety. The second stage involved working with a sports psychologist to determine a breathing technique strategy and to implement the strategy. The third stage involved measuring the effects of the program on the 4 athletes.

Anxiety Measurement Tools

This study incorporated the Sport Competition Anxiety Text (SCAT) first developed by Martens in 1977 as a self-report measurement of competitive anxiety. The SCAT consists of 15 questions that measure how a person feels during competition (Martens, 1990). This test has met the accepted standards for psychological tests and has been deemed valid and reliable (Gill, 2000). Smith et al. (1990) expanded on Martens' SCAT and multidimensional models, developing the Sport Anxiety Scale (SAS), a sports-specific anxiety scale for sports-specific measurements of anxiety using cognitive traits (worry, concentration) and somatic traits (heart rate, breathing) (Gill, 2000). …

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