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Relationship Between Personality Type and Sports Performance

Personality factors and assessment of personality

According to Pervin (1971) and Holland (1993) personality is a person’s individual characteristics. They said that a person’s personality should also be based on the constant patterns of their behaviour.

Friedman and Rosenman, both cardiologists, developed their theory based on their experience of their heart patients.  In their waiting room some patients seemed to be unable to sit still in their chairs, they were fidgeting and sitting on the edge of their seats.  The doctors labelled this behaviour Type A and their research showed that Type A personalities were impatient, competitive and self-critical, compared to what they labelled as Type B personalities who were able to wait patiently and are more relaxed.

According to Freidman and Rosman’s theory (1976) a type A athlete is a very competitive person, this may give them an advantage as they want to win and will train to get to the best of their ability. Type A athletes have a high alert, this means that performers in sports such as football will be alert to their surroundings and can change and adapt to get to their best ability.

They believed that a type B athlete will be more relaxed and will be able to keep calm under pressure, this may however be a disadvantage as they may not be able to psych themselves up enough for a big game.

Research suggests that there is not a direct link between successful performance and personality type, it has been shown that Type A personalities are more competitive and more likely to continue fighting to succeed when the situation becomes unfavourable than Type B personalities.  Girdano used the idea of personality Type A and Type B in his narrow band theory (1990), it was a very simple approach to personality which states that every person has either a Type A or Type B personality. Type A performers may seem perfect as they are competitive, determined and full of energy but as they are also impatient, aggressive and restless they may find it hard to concentrate and get control of their skills and this may result in a poor quality of performance.  Type B personalities are more relaxed and calm, they perform in a more controlled and focussed manner, however they may lack motivation and give up easily when faced with an obstacle.  One strength of this theory is that we can all probably identify with people who have either Type A or Type B personality, however the approach  is seen as too simplistic as many performers may lie somewhere in the middle of the two types.

Trait Theory

Trait theory analyzes personality based on the assumption that the performer shows a stable set of traits which are consistent and the causes of behaviour are independent of sporting situations or environment.  By assuming that the sports performer  will act in a particular way, no matter what the sporting situation, this theory is seen to be slightly unrealistic.  It is likely that the performer will not respond in exactly the same way on every occasion, and it is thought that the best sports performers are those who are able to react perceptively to their circumstances. 

Jarvis (2006) believed that an individual’s personality is made up of certain key characteristics or traits. Traits are the stable, enduring characteristics of a person.

He also believed that individuals differ in each trait due to genetic differences, consistent across a variety of situations. Finally, he believed that a person’s situation and environmental factors are minimal in a person’s personality.

However, Hans Eysenk (1965) came up with a different idea of trait theory, Eysenk stated that there were two continuums behind trait theory, one is introvert or extrovert. He stated that an extrovert is outgoing, sociable and a positive person. And introvert however is the opposite, quiet, passive and unsociable. The other continuum he believed is stable and unstable. He believed that a stable person is calm, a good leader and even tempered. An unstable person was described as restless, moody and excitable.

Connor McGregor (marked as X on diagram) is an unstable extrovert as he is very sociable and outgoing but, as you would expect with a fighter, he is very aggressive which makes him an unstable person.

Later Eysenck (1975) added a third part to his personality model, and it was to measure how delicate or tough minded people are.  It looks at qualities such as the ability to cope with competitive pressure and readiness to return to competition after failure.



Situational theory of personality

Your personality is determined by your situation or your environment according to this theory.

In 1977 Bandura created an experiment called the bobo doll experiment, he split up two groups of children and showed one group a model beating the bobo doll. The one group that was shown the video was then put in a room with the bobo doll. The children then beat this bobo doll, like the model did in the video, one child then picked up a gun and aimed it at the doll. Both males and females attacked the doll. The other group who were not shown the video did not harm the doll.

Attention is the observation of another demonstrating a behaviour. Retention is remembering and retaining information about behaviour, this memory is long term.

Reproduction is an attempt to reproduce the observed behaviour, for example the children with the bobo doll.

Situational triggers can impact performance, we observed this in a sporting environment when the coach encouraged players to do well and praised them when they did well, this had a positive impact on the performers ability and encouraged them to perform well. This is known as positive reinforcement and is commonly used in participants at a younger age. However, we also observed the opposite later when the coach turned and started to shout at the participants when they did something wrong and did not praise them at all, this would reduce the confidence of the performer and may discourage them from playing so often therefore having a negative impact on the team, this is called negative reinforcement and is more commonly seen by coaches at the ages of 12-18.

Situation theory can be used to explain why people choose certain sports.  This theory is different from trait theories as it states that behaviour depends on environment and situation and these factors are more important than traits.

If a footballer learned to play football against aggressive players, he might become aggressive as well and the effect on their performance is that they may perform arrogantly and taking too many risks, for example taking wild shots from distance, they may occasionally pay off but more frequently will give possession away and lose the game.

Interactional theory

Previous theories on personalities in sports performance have been criticised for being over simplistic, but the interactional theory shows interaction between states and traits, therefore trying to understand how behaviour is influenced by both social learning in the environment and personality.  As in trait theory, personalities are described by how introverted or extroverted the individual is.  Introverted people are quiet, thoughtful and often shy whereas extroverted people are usually loud and excitable.  These are extremes and many people are somewhere in the middle of the two.  Introverts tend to enjoy sports that require intricate skills, self-motivated, individual performances, low arousal levels, examples would be golf, snooker and archery.  Extroverts prefer sports which are exciting, fast paced, large simple motor skills, team sports, high arousal levels such as rugby, american football and boxing.  By investigating how performers will react to certain situations, it is possible to implement strategies to address the behaviour.

In Marten’s schematic view there are multiple ‘layers’ that could all impact performance. The first layer is the core, this includes attitudes, values, interests and motives. Most people call this part ‘the real you’ and the part where you don’t care what other people think about you.

The next layer is typical response, this is usually how people respond in social situations.  This layer is changeable by your surroundings and your situation, for example if a bad challenge is put in on you your behaviour may change from being relaxed and calm to being angry and may cause you to shout at the fouler.

The final layer is role related behaviour, this is the most changeable aspect of your personality. It is determined by the situation or environment you are in. an example of this is during school you are expected to listen to teacher instructions whereas if you are playing for your local football team you could be captain which requires you to lead your team and give them instructions.

Assessment of personality

Test Score Validity Reliability Strengths Weaknesses
Eysenk’s personality inventory. Extroversion-71% 

Neuroticism -36%



This test Is very useful as it tells us what personality we have; however, it may not be very accurate. This test is not very accurate as there are very few questions which means that the results are not so in depth. Quick and easy to do. This test is very inaccurate as there are very few questions I the test.
Cattell’s 16 personality factor. -Liveleness-2.4 

-Openness to change- 2.3



It measures personality well. It is very accurate as it asks lots of questions, this means that it can do more analysis on the type of personality. Very accurate because the questions are in depth, this means that it gives a more reliable and accurate results. Takes a very long time to answer all the questions.


Psychodynamic theory

This is based on Freudian principles, it states that personality is made up of conscious and unconscious parts.  Instinctive drive (ID) is the part of personality that is unconscious and makes performers do certain things without even thinking about it.  An example here would be on the start line at the final of a big race event the sprinter may experience high levels of anxiety and their muscles freeze.  Ego is the conscious part of personality and super ego is the moral conscience.  Both ego and super ego play similar parts in physical activity, an example would be suggesting that someone else on the football team takes the penalty for fear of failure and ridicule.  The psychodynamic approach looks at the whole individual, this theory is useful to explain behaviour as it attempts to show that not all behaviour is under the conscious control of the performer, it can help to explain root causes of unusual behaviours.  However this approach is based on concepts that are not directly observable or testable, therefore there is no way to scientifically verify findings and it is not possible to establish cause and effect links.  The methodology used may be subjective, therefore findings could be biased.



Types of Motivation

According to Roberts (2012) motivation is an individual’s social cognitive process, environmental and mental relationship.

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is doing something for yourself, for example self-pleasure, such as fulfilling personal fitness goals. A Type A performer is more likely to be intrinsic as they are so competitive that they just want to win for self-pride. For some this is enough motivation, however for extrinsic people they need physical motivation such as money, publicity or trophies.

For extrinsic motivation to be effective, rewards need to be used carefully, if rewards are handed out too often, the performer may feel less motivated when they are then rewarded. Too much extrinsic motivation may reduce intrinsic motivation as when the reward is removed they will question why they are doing it with no reward and may become less motivated and may therefore drop in ability. A coach needs to have a really good knowledge of the performers to maximise the effect and the performers understanding of the extrinsic motivator will be important to whether it will hinder or benefit motivation.

Achievement Motivation

According to Atkinson (1964) achievement motivation theory comes from a person’s individual personality and is their motivation to strive for success. This drive is the reason athletes become ‘world class’ as the drive keeps them going, even if they have to wake up at 6am for training, this drive makes them want to do it as they can see the rewards.

An example of achievement motivation is the way sports performers who thrive on competition, compare themselves to others as a way of evaluating their skill level.  It can be specific to a situation, and just because someone strives to be a top runner, for example, it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily have the same determination to succeed in their school work. Many compete against themselves, for example a runner may set a faster time even if there is no one else there to evaluate and view their performance.

According to Harvey, Jones and Gould (1993) elite sports performers must have high levels of intrinsic motivation to maintain effort during the ups and downs of form and confidence.  Football manager Martin O’Neill said that the best players to work with are the ones that aren’t concerned about how much they earn.  After the disastrous England rugby performance in the 2011 World Cup tournament, one player was reported to have said that perhaps the professionalisation of rugby has ruined it, before the game turned to full time in 1995 the players had other jobs too and there would be no doubt that this would mean that they would really have needed to love playing the game and not be there just for the money.  Too much money may make sports performers too comfortable, a good example of intrinsic motivation is Joe Calzaghe who continued training at the same run-down gym throughout his career even though his success meant that it would be easy for him to invest in somewhere more comfortable and luxurious.  The best motivation for a performer is success, if they achieve at something it is a positive reinforcement and the behaviour is more likely to be repeated.  A coach can effect this by reinforcing desirable behaviors, such as near misses and effort.  However too much of the wrong kind of praise, such as praising natural ability rather than effort can have a negative effect on motivation.

Giving sports performers ownership makes them feel that they have a say in their own performance and is good for motivation, this can be done by asking the performer for input into planning training or tactics for example.  Black and Weiss (1992) highlighted that coaches who provide more praise, supportive behaviour, information and technical feedback following good performances are linked with sports performers who show greater levels of effort, enjoyment, success and motivation.

Achievement Goal Theory

According to Nicholls (1997) in any achievement field you are seeking to demonstrate competence. There are two types, task and ego. Task being someone who wants to progress, but ego is someone who just wants to beat another person to show that they are better.

Within task goal a player aims to master the task and be the best they can be, the performer also aims to improve their skills and take ownership of their development. An ego goal orientated performer will compare themselves to others and aim to be better than their opposition and only train to be better than others and not to be the best they can be.

The best combination for goal orientations is 50/50. An example for this ideal performer is Usain Bolt, although he predominantly wants to beat the opposition he trains to beat himself, this is the perfect example of this 50/50 combination.

Lance Armstrong had always wanted to be the best in the world, but when he realised he could never cleanly beat the opposition he turned to drugs to fulfil his goal, he then went on to win seven Tour de France titles. Lance could never be the ‘loser’, he continued to cheat until he was retrospectively caught in 2013.

Motivational climate is when a leader creates an environment by using different techniques to impact on their behaviours and motivation, making it fun and interesting whilst also being beneficial for the players.

Carol Ames (1992) TARGET Theory

T- Task- The task must be varied to keep the task entertaining and fun.

A– Authority- By giving participants authority they will be able to create a challenging whilst fun environment for themselves as well as developing some coaching skills.

R- Recognition- Leaders should give lots of recognition to make the participants feel confident and proud of what they are doing, this may make them interested in the sport and may push them to take up the sport outside of the session.

G- Grouping- Groups according to this theory should be mixed between boys and girls as well as mixed ability to make gameplay fair.

E- Evaluation- The coach should criticise participants individually and positively. They should do this to prevent embarrassment within peers, the coach should criticise positively to push development of skills.

T- Time- Students should choose how much time they should have to develop new skills, this relieves the stress of learning new things before a deadline.

Mastery and Competitive Climate

Within a mastery climate, performers will receive positive feedback, for example a coach would find something that they did well but would tell them how to build on that skill. This is especially important with younger ages as if you just criticise them than they may feel upset and may be discouraged from playing. In this climate a coach is likely to see a faster learning progression.  In this climate the performers will be expected to encourage their teammates, challenge themselves and demonstrate personal improvement.  Mistakes would be used as a source of feedback and to help the performers to learn and improve.  Each individual will feel that they have a part to play in the team.  This climate is less likely to see performers suffering from anxiety, stress and burnout.

Within a competitive climate coaches are less likely to pick out the positives and will just pick out the negatives, this may not work well for some performers as they may feel intimidated by their coach and therefore may not want to play for them, however if they are intimidated then they may not make the mistakes, to try and stop the coach from criticising them. In a competitive climate the sports performer will have limited opportunities for decision making and performers are encouraged to try and out perform one another and there is a culture of being punished for mistakes.  The coach is likely to spend more time with the performers who are seen to be more competent and essential to the team’s chances of winning.

Attribution Theory

In sport attribution theory looks at how performers explain their performance either positively or negatively. If a performer explains their performance negatively then they may be over motivated, this means that they want to fill their demands so much that they just fall apart and have a breakdown, this means that as the motivation goes up so does the performance, until it gets too high and their performance levels drop rapidly, this is the inverted U theory.

If the performer sees the performance positively then they are highly motivated, if they are highly motivated then their performance will be high according to drive theory. Attributions provide explanations for failures or success, and are in the category of stability, control or casualty.  Stability is whether the reason is permanent or unstable, will it be the same next time or will the outcome probably differ, if the performer feels that it doesn’t matter how hard they try they will probably fail next time too or with maybe more effort or smarter tactics they will succeed.  Success or failure may be controllable or uncontrollable, a controllable factor can be changed or influenced if wanted but an uncontrollable factor example is bad weather conditions.  Casualty is does it come from internal factors such as ability and effort or external factors such as it was bad refereeing.

Performance Relationship Theories Under Competitive Pressure

Arousal is the state of alertness that gets the body ready for action.  Arousal involves both psychological and physiological activity, such as increased heart rate and focussed attention.  The link between performance and arousal is shown in theories such a drive theory, the inverted U hypothesis, the individual zones of optimal functioning theory and the catastrophe theory. It is the phycological or cognitive response to a stressor, a stressor is something in the environment that causes a reaction.

Drive Theory

The drive theory was devised by Hull (1943).  It was based on the belief that the more the performer is “psyched up” the better their performance will be.  The more practised the skill of the performer is, the more likely that a high level of arousal will mean a better performance.  For an expert in their field, the dominant reaction to the high levels of arousal would likely be the correct response as this is practised regularly and becomes a habit.  However, for a novice the dominant response may be inaccurate, so a higher level of arousal may lead to a slump in performance. Spence and Spence (1968) tried to adapt the theory by focusing on the relationship between habit strength, drive and performance.  However, observations have proven that even the most experienced performers can see a decline when arousal reaches a very high level, for example an experienced footballer who misses a penalty kick after being badly tackled near the goal.  This theory does not take into account that arousal can have a negative effect on performance.  The negative aspects of this theory helped to form the inverted U hypothesis.

According to drive theory, performance is dependent to arousal, the higher the arousal levels the better the performance.

In sports such as archery, less drive is needed to stay calm, you must be controlled and focused, this is so shots are not rushed and therefore meaning points are not lost. However, in sports such as rugby, a lot of drive is needed to make a hard and powerful tackle to possibly result in the opposition losing the ball and a gain in ground which will give an advantage towards the team.

Sports such as wrestling also need high arousal to become aggressive to tackle and take down the opposition. If you had low arousal whilst playing a high drive sport you would be susceptible to injuries as well as not giving 100% could lead to conflict within the team as they are seen to not be giving anything towards the team and could be seen as a liability.


Inverted U Theory

Like drive theory if you have a low level of arousal your performance level will be low, however unlike drive theory there is a peak level, this is medium levels of arousal, then unlike drive theory the performance then drops back down with high levels of arousal and low levels of performance.

This theory gives an explanation of poor performance, where the performer appears to be not ready for the event.  As arousal increases performance improves.  But once an optimal point of arousal is reached, as shown on the graph, sporting levels decline.  The inverted U hypothesis is well accepted as most sports performers and coaches can relate to personal experiences of over-arousal where they are over excited or maybe angry to the point of poor concentration or decision making.  They are likely to be able to think of times when maybe they were under aroused, possibly bored from stale training routines, and they will also be aware of times of optimum arousal where there has been total focus on sporting performance with a clear achievement in mind.  A criticism of this theory is the shape of the curve, as some have questioned whether some sports performers actually have a longer period of optimum arousal and for some the steepness of the curve will differ.

This theory is especially significant in tennis as too little arousal will mean that reaction times will be slower, the performer won’t feel motivated to run after the ball and put in the effort. However, being too aroused will cause the performer to be too aggressive and could cause them to lose their head and rush shots and lose points.

Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning

Individual Zones of Optimal FunctioningRussian psychologist Yuri Hanin (1997) adapted the inverted U hypothesis in his individual zones of optimal functioning theory, in which he identifies that optimal levels of arousal and anxiety can occur at differing points with individuals and that the optimal level was not a set point on a graph but between a selection of points specific to that sports performer. This theory considers that some performers may have different levels of anxiety. Each performer has their own preferred level of anxiety that allows them to perform at their best level, if the performer experiences too little or too much anxiety then they are out of their optimal zone and their performance will be affected.

Hanin suggested that rather than emotions being referred to as positive or negative, in a sport setting it is better to identify between helpful and unhelpful or optimal and dysfunctional emotions.  For example some performers may find feeling angry helps them to reach their top performance, whereas for others this is not helpful at all.  This model suggests that each performer should find out their optimal combination of useful emotions and learn how to reach this unique state before a competition.

The main criticism of this theory is that it does not suggest why one performer may perform better in certain emotional states than others, but it is a good model for a performer to understand their self-awareness and mental readiness for competition.  The individual optimal performance zone can be found out by profiling, which involves a reconstruction of the performer’s emotional experiences during previous poor and successful performances.

Catastrophe Theory

According to Hardy and Fazey (1987) arousal is split into physical and cognitive components. This theory is more accurate because it is individual for each person. Catastrophe occurs when physical arousal and cognitive anxiety are too high and causes the performer to ‘lose their head’.

In 1999 golfer Jean Van De Velde was on the final hole and was six shots ahead, meaning his performance level was high. He then had 3 bad shots causing pressure to be put on him, on his 4th shot he hit the ball into the water, this is where he hit catastrophe, his cognitive anxiety kicked in and his performance suddenly dropped, he then went on to lose the tournament on a tie break.

This shows that performance can drop from 90 to 0 in the space of one shot. Catastrophe model was proposed to identify the interaction that occurs between the level of arousal and cognitive anxiety (worry).  This theory is similar to the inverted U theory, but it identifies that this is true only when the sports performer is free from external anxieties and stress.  This theory highlights the importance of a well-managed lifestyle for enhanced sporting performance.  In catastrophe theory the drop in performance is not necessarily a steady decline, as in the inverted U theory, when arousal levels become too high, but can be a sharp decline.  The model suggests that performance is affected by the relationship between physical anxiety and mental anxiety.  It is thought that when mental anxiety is high but physical anxiety is low performance is better, but when both physical and mental anxiety is high performance can suddenly deteriorate. When this sudden drop in performance happens the performer tries to regain control by decreasing arousal.  Their performance will hopefully gradually return to its original level as arousal and anxiety returns to lower levels.  Novice performers are less likely to recover from this poor performance than elite performers.  If the performer does not recover then this could lead to self-doubt in future competitions.

Attentional Focus and Sports Performance Under Competitive Pressure

Relevant and irrelevant cues

An example of a relevant cue is a Coach, as they give constructive criticism.  Another example would be a referee, this is due to the decision making conducted by the referee and the fact that the player may or may not agree with the decisions. Other relevant cues would be; technique, tactics, the opponent, the score and the amount of time remaining. Whereas, irrelevant cues are the crowd or the opposition as they can either put off or have no affect on the performer, other irrelevant cues are, negative thoughts and focusing on who the next opponent may be.

Types of Attentional Focus and Impacts

Broad – this is when performers focus on many different things, for example, if a footballer had a broad attentional focus they would be able to focus on both the ball and an incoming tackler.

Narrow – this is the opposite of broad and means that the performer can focus on just one thing.

Internal – the performer will focus on internal stimuli, for example their feelings.

External – the performer will focus on external stimuli, for example the ball or the crowd.

Attentional Strategies

Internal focus style

Performers here will be at their best when they are totally focussed on their sport, whether during practice or competition.  If they take their mind off their sport they may become distracted and struggle to regain their focus.


External focus style


Performers here will be at their best when they only focus on their sport when they’re just about to start a practice session or competition.  At other times they prefer to take their mind off their sport.  These performers can think too much, become over critical, negative and anxious.  For performers with external focus style it might be seen by observers that the performer is not taking the competition seriously or wanting to perform their best, but the performer doesn’t want to be too serious or think too much as this causes them to lose confidence.

Evidence of these different focus styles can be seen at sporting events, for example at Twickenham when the England rugby team arrive, they step off the coach and walk through the awaiting crowds and into the stadium.  Some players are clearly “in the zone”, often with headphones on, head down, no eye contact, walking in quickly obviously focused on the match ahead.  In contrast others are enjoying the attention of the crowd, relaxed, happy to sign autographs, have selfies and are chatting to people.  It is important for performers to know and understand their preferred focus style and actively focus in that way to get their best performances.  It is also essential that coaches and management teams understand and recognise the needs of the performer.  There can be conflict here as certain sponsors, for example, may require the performer to participate in promotional activities before a big competition and this may be awkward for some.




Shifting Attentional Focus

Peak performance occurs when the performer can concentrate on the cues in their environment and understand that they can voluntarily shift between different types of concentration, for example taking encouragement from positive crowd support but being able to block it out when the comments are negative.

What Causes Attentional Problems?

There are many things that may cause attentional problems, hesitation on going into a tackle which may cause injury therefore possibly distracting the performer, is one example.  Another example is fatigue which causes a build-up of lactic acid, leaving the performer in pain and therefore distracting them.


According to Nideffer and Sagel (2006), choking is a change in one’s thoughts and emotions which may lead to phycological changes as well.  Choking occurs in high pressure situations, such as, taking a penalty in a Cup Final.  It is an extreme form of nervousness that negatively affects performance and is more likely to occur with large audiences or important people such as parents or peers.

Changes in Attention Focus

During high levels of arousal, the attentional field that focuses on concentration and attention becomes narrowed.  This causes the number of relevant cues that the performer can concentrate on to be lowered.  For example, during a game of Football, when arousal levels are high, the performer will only be able to focus on one thing, this may lead to a loss of ball possession.  This loss of ball possession may raise the players anxiety levels.

Stress, anxiety and sports performance under competitive pressure


A number of sports performers could be in the same situation yet have different stress responses to the situation. Internal causes of stress could be things such as insufficient sleep, illness, worrying or being self critical. External causes could be your environment, for example being too noisy or quiet, travel issues, conflict with team mates or a death in the family.

According to Lazarus and Folkman (1984) stress is ‘a pattern of negative physiological states and psychological responses occurring in situations where people perceive threats to their well-being, which they may be unable to meet’.

There are two different types of stress, Eustress and Distress. Eustress is a good form of stress that can give the performer a positive feeling. Some performers use this positive stress to help boost and improve their performance, the positive stress may also improve their intrinsic motivation.

Distress on the other hand is a bad form of stress and is what most people perceive stress to be. Distress is an extreme form of anxiety and highlights the inability for the performer to perform, this will have a strongly negative impact on the performer. Distress can be caused by many different reasons; the crowd may be one of these. If the performer makes errors the crowed may get on the performers back and this may cause distress and lead to more errors being made.

There are five stages to stress affecting performance. The first stage is demand, if the performer cannot fulfil the demand then pressure will be put on them which will result in a build-up of stress. In stage two the performer must choose how they perceive this demand, either positively or negatively. If the demand is seen as being too big then it will distract the performer and may cause errors to be made, however if the performer sees this demand positively, then they may increase their effort to try and fulfil the demand.

At stage three, if the performer sees the demand negativity then arousal level will increase as well as an increase of cognitive and somatic anxiety, this may lead to a decrease in attention levels. At the final stage there will be an outcome, if the demand is seen negatively then a miss in shot may happen for example, however if the demand is seen positively then that shot is more likely to be scored.

A good sporting example for this is taking a penalty. At stage one the performer will have to meet the expectation of scoring the penalty. If they see this positively then they will have an increased level of energy and motivation and will therefore have an increase in performance meaning the penalty is more likely to be scored. On the other hand, if the demand is seen negatively then the performer will have an increase in worry, leading to a decrease in performance making it more likely for them to miss the penalty.

There are many different causes of stress, one example is a psychological factor, this may include the performers believing that the opposition is better than them. If this is the case, then the performers may not put in 100% effort as they believe that there is no point trying as they always believe that they are going to lose. However, if the performers believe that they are better than the opposition, then they may have pressure on their back to win, this may cause stress.

Lazarus and Folkman created the transactional model of stress and coping, hoping to understand the stress appraisal and coping relationship.  The model shows that individuals’ cognitive appraisals of potentially stressful situations will be influenced by a mix of situational factors, such as the environment and social interactions, and personal factors such as goals and personality.  The transactional model shows that stress is a term which encompasses overall processors such as stressors, appraisals, strain and coping rather than just one thing.  A stressor is defined as “environmental demands encountered by an individual” and have been categorised into three main groups, they are competitive, personal and organisational (Fletcher 2006).  Competitive stressors are directly related to competitive performance, examples are injury, technique issues, preparation for competition, pressure and opponents.  Organisational stressors are demands associated with the organisation the performer is operating in, for example the training environment, travel and accommodation, lack of social support and political issues.  Personal issues are such as lifestyle or financial issues.

There are many disorders that are related to stress, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.  Stress can occur in people with OCD because the person will become so obsessed with their traditions it can take over their thoughts and affect performance.  Footballers David Beckham and Paul Gascoigne and rugby player Jonny Wilkinson  are sufferers of OCD.  Depression can cause a person to become stressed and stress can cause depression because a person can become preoccupied with what is stressing them.  These stress disorders need specialised treatment and it is important that a coaching team can identify the symptoms to ensure the proper help is given.  There are many health problems related to high levels of stress, such as ulcers, IBS and respiratory conditions.   If a sports performer develops one of these conditions it is important to find out the underlying cause and find ways to help deal with the stress, it may also involve changes to lifestyle and diet. Some examples are Marcus Tres-cothick who had to leave an England Ashes tour due to a stress related illness, Olympic runner Kelly Holmes was diagnosed as suffering from depression after being injured during training, Sol Cambell suffered repeated bouts of depression and once walked out of an Arsenal – West Ham game  at half time saying he couldn’t carry on, Golfer Dean Robertson was out of sport for two years with depression but came back to win the Scottish PGA Championship however he still struggles with the illness, rugby player Richard Hill suffered severe depression after surgery for a knee ligament and snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan was once struggling to such an extent that he telephoned the Samaritans minutes before the start of a world championship.

Stress and anxiety affects everyone daily, but research has found that sports performers struggle with these conditions more than the rest of the population.  Burnout, overload, dropout and maladaptive fatigue syndrome can be the result if issues are not addressed quickly.  Much research has been concentrated on anxiety because it affects so many, the two main types of anxiety focussed on are state and trait.


Anxiety is a negative emotional state that is associated with apprehension or nervousness.  There are different types of anxiety – state and trait, cognitive, somatic and behavioural.  State anxiety is an ever-changing mood that is a temporary response to a threatening situation, for example, a boxer may have high levels of state anxiety whilst walking out into the ring which may then lower once the fight has started.  Heightened levels of state anxiety will cause muscles to tighten causing a decrease in performance. By seeing a decrease in performance, we can link anxiety to the inverted U theory, as whilst the performer walks out into the ring they will be over aroused, therefore causing a drop-in performance levels.  A good example of state anxiety is Zinedine Zidane, who is usually a calm person, however in certain situations, for example the head butt in the 2006 World Cup final, he can lose his cool.  There are two types of state anxiety, cognitive and somatic.  Cognitive state anxiety is how much you worry, whereas somatic state anxiety is the physical symptoms of anxiety such as an increase in heart rate and sweating.

Trait anxiety is when a performer feels threatened by a non-threatening situation and relates to the individual’s pattern of behaviour.  Trait anxiety may be triggered when performing in front of large crowds, this will cause a release of high levels of state anxiety.

Behavioural anxiety is when a performer starts to create excuses for poor performance, they may become quiet and avoid working as part of the team.

There are many anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and signs.  Examples of anxiety disorders are panic disorder and agoraphobia.  Signs and symptoms could include paralysing terror, shaking, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, nausea, trembling, sweating or hot flashes.  Many of these symptoms can be debilitating for the sport performer experiencing them.  It is important the performer seeks help to learn how to handle their anxiety, it is important for them to relax and get comfortable in the situation that is causing their anxiety.  Untreated anxiety can result in health problems such as ulcers, a run down immune system and depression.  Sports performers who suffer from anxiety and stress and do not learn to control their symptoms will find their performance greatly affected.  An example is golfer Charlie Beljan who had a severe panic attack while playing on a PGA tour, it was so bad the paramedics thought he was having a heart attack.  Baseball player Joey Votto suffered sever panic attacks and was famously quoted saying “I thought I was going to die” after an attack.

Sir Chris Hoy suffered panic attacks for almost 20 years, on the start line his palms would sweat, his legs were wobbly and he had a huge sense of dread and paralysing fear.  He believed that this was holding him back from winning an Olympic medal.  Panic attacks are a product of the body’s flight or fight response which kicks in when we feel under threat.  After the first panic attack, when a performer then finds themselves in a similar situation, they panic that they are going to have another attack so they are in a vicious circle.  With the Team GB sports psychologist Chris went through behaviour modification therapies, which work by interrupting negative thought patterns and unwanted emotions.  He also learnt positive thinking techniques such as anchoring which involves the performer visualising a positive image of when they last had a great success then attaching that image to a gesture, such as squeezing his left earlobe, and a phrase.  The success that Chris has had since learning these techniques is easy to see.  Antidepressants such as Valium and beta blockers can be prescribed for panic attacks, but most sports performers do not like to use drug treatments because of the recent issue with the doping scandals and some medications being seen to give unfair advantages.

Multidimensional Anxiety Theory

Marten’s theory (1990) states that when a performer becomes anxious their performance levels will decrease.  This means that anxiety that is felt by the body will have a similar effect on performance as that stated in the Inverted U Theory, meaning that we can link the effects of anxiety on performance to those of the effects of arousal.

Reversal Theory-Kerr (1999)

Image result for reversal theoryKerr believes that arousals affect on  performance depends on how the performers perceive the arousal.  Performers with low arousal could perceive this with positive feelings such as relaxation of negative feelings such as boredom.  Performers with high levels of arousal could also perceive this either positively such as excitement or negatively such as anxiety.  As the diagram shows, performers who see their arousal levels as a good emotion perform at a higher level than those who see it as a negative.  The theory presents the idea that a performer’s perception of the environment may change, possibly from unpleasant to pleasant, and therefore their performance may alter.

Image result for reversal theoryThe theory is made up of four “domains”, means-ends, relationships, transactions and rules, various states that a performer may experience as they strive to reach their full potential, each has two opposing motivational states, the performer reverses between the states as the situation changes.  This theory reflects the performer’s motivational style as well as the meaning they attach to the situation at a given time, it focuses on a performer’s flexibility and changeability.  This theory shows that a performer’s personality is not a stable, it can be changing and inconsistent, Serena and Venus Williams can be used as examples of this theory, the way they have competed to be totally dominate in women’s tennis, not just to win.  Mentally, more than other players, they can focus on the task, not allowing anything to bother them or upset their concentration, they are able to adapt.  They are seen to overly value winning.

In the Inverted U theory there was one single optimal point of arousal, in contrast reversal theory suggest that there are two alternative systems and that each one has its optimal point and that only one point will be the preferred optimal point at one given time.  Reversal theory appears to explain more clearly than the inverted U theory how on some occasions high arousal can be a positive, for example watching your team win and how on other occasions low arousal can also be a positive, for example when relaxing.


Fight or Flight

During the reaction to threat or danger certain hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response, it gives the energy for the performer to either step up to the threat or to run away from it.  The sympathetic nervous system produces certain physical responses in order to do this, for example increase in heart rate and adrenaline, dilated pupils, a dry mouth, increased muscle tension and an increase in blood movement to provide muscles with oxygen.  When the threat is gone the parasympathetic nervous system begins to work, this causes the performer to relax by decreasing breathing rate, decrease heart and breathing rate and causes muscles to relax.

Self-Confidence and Sports Performance Under Competitive Pressure


Self-confidence is the ability to have a positive frame of mind and to be able to believe in your ability and who you are.  Self-confidence can differ depending on your skill and the people around you. High confidence can greatly improve performance as the performer will be able to overcome fear and anxiety. In 2015 the England women’s hockey team played the Netherlands at the final of the World Championships, the Netherlands lead 2-0 at half time.  In the second half England scored two goals to take the match to extra time and penalties, England then win 3-1 on penalties to win the World Championship, giving England the upper physiological edge.  At the 2016 Rio Olympics both England and the Netherlands make it to the final, with England being the more confident side after beating the Netherlands just a year earlier.  In the final the game finishes 1-1 with the game going to extra time and then penalties, as previously in 2015 England win on penalties.  The confidence that England had after beating Netherlands in 2015 gave them the edge in 2016.

There are many ways in which a performer can reach optimum self-confidence, for example using imagery.  Imagery involves performers picturing themselves executing perfect performance, an example of this is Owen Farrell repeatedly visualising the rugby ball successfully going over the posts prior to kicking the ball.


How Expectations Influence Performance

Expectations can be seen in two different ways, the first is how the players see the expectations and the other is how the supporters see it.  When the supporters see pundits or other fans expecting their team to win they will be given hope and an increase in belief of the players.  This is a strong positive for the supporters as they will travel to the event expecting a win, and will therefore get behind their team with support to get over the line.  If the performers are expected to win then this may raise their self-confidence, however if they are over-confident they may become complacent. This means that we can link it to the Inverted U Theory because if they have too little confidence then the performance level will be low and if they are too confident then the performance will also be low.  So, for optimum performance the competitor should have medium levels of self-confidence.

An example of expectation effecting performance is the England National Football Team.  Both fans and players have too many expectations going into a tournament, and this only increases as media coverage and excitement grows.  These expectations are rarely lived up to and leaves both fans and players frustrated.  England players are often reported to be playing with fear of failure.


Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory

According to Bandura (1989), ‘self-efficacy is a physiological, mechanism that inhabits an individual’s belief surrounding their capabilities to formulate control over situations that affect their lives.’  The Self-Efficacy Theory suggests that self-efficacy beliefs predict a performer’s thought patterns, motivation and behaviours (Bandura 1977), this means that a performer with high self-efficacy will take part more often and more enthusiastically (Bandura 1986). Within self-efficacy there are two aspects that both play their own part, they are Outcome expectancies and Efficacy expectations.  Outcome expectancies are a performers belief that a certain event will lead to a certain outcome.  Efficacy expectations are the key cognitive variables and will decide how much effort a performer will put in.  This is according to Bandura (1977).

Application of Model to Sports Performance (Machida, Ward and Vealey 2012)

Organisational culture is the start of the diagram as it is where most performers get into the sport as different countries have different sport cultures. England’s sporting culture primarily consists of Rugby and football for the men and Hockey and Netball for the women. Several of the women’s World Cup winning hockey squad would have grown up playing Hockey both at school level and at a competitive level.

At the next stage, sources of sport confidence, this is where confidence comes from as there are various aspects that can influence their performance, for example the England’s women’s hockey team will have a large number of fans supporting them which makes them believe that fans are confident that they can win and will therefore give them a boost of self-confidence. The players will also take a confidence boost out of their training sessions as they will be able to see that they can perform at high level of performance within a game situation, this will mean that the players can see that they are performing at an elite level.

The next stage, types of sport-confidence, shows us how the performers show their self-confidence. The England hockey team demonstrated their self-confidence through the resilience stage, they fought back after being 2-0 down to the Netherlands to winning on penalties. By showing this resilience, it will encourage more people to get behind them even if they are losing as they are aware that they may come back to win. At the final stage we see how this effects performance, either the team will step up and use the self-confidence and perform well (drive theory) or whether it is all too much for them and they crumble at the expectations (inverted U theory).

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