Athlete's 'rituals' important for overcoming performance anxiety

Jan 31, 2007

Dry mouth, sweaty palms and rapid heart rate are just a few symptoms of increased anxiety, the kind an athlete might feel before the big game. Those symptoms drop off quickly, but psychological factors hang around to influence the outcome of an athlete's performance. That is where intervention, often in the form of rituals or performance routines, comes in, according to Richard Cox, a sports psychology researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"Negative thoughts will kill you," Cox said. "An athlete's routine is critical. The body is a marvelous piece of machinery, but you can interfere with it. If you see the basketball player at the free throw line, you will often notice a certain routine being repeated. That is when negative thoughts are being replaced by positive thoughts, relaxation occurs and mistakes are minimized."

According to Cox, who just published the sixth edition of his book "Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications," an athletic performance task can be repeated hundreds of times yet mistakes are still made. Well planned and practiced performance routines can minimize these errors. Dallas Cowboys football player Tony Romo certainly knows about this concept. He was supposed to hold the ball for the kicker, after the snap, for a game-winning field goal in a recent playoff game, an action he has performed hundreds of times without fault. However, he fumbled, and his team lost the game.

"Even during the Superbowl, where you have the best of the best, some will still make terrible errors. Even the most highly accomplished athletes will have brief lapses and fail to control anxiety or fear," said Cox, professor and chair of the MU College of Education Department of Education, School and Counseling Psychology. "If you have confidence in the team around you, that should help. However, kickers are the only ones who can kick the ball, and placeholders are the only ones who can hold the ball. They still must control the mind, go through the pre-performance routine and replace negative thoughts with positive ones."

Cox said that seasoned athletes will be less affected by anxiety because their skill levels are so high. However, rookies are more likely to be affected by anxiety because their skills are less honed, and more situations are new and unfamiliar to them.

"Sometimes this is the reason why accomplished athletes are considered cocky," Cox said. "They need to be; they cannot be thinking negative thoughts."

The previous edition of Cox's book on sports psychology was translated into four different languages. The new edition was released this month.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: Hand gestures improve learning in both signers and speakers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US clears $2.3 bln Lenovo deal for IBM unit

3 hours ago

IBM said Friday that US authorities had cleared a $2.3 billion deal allowing China-based Lenovo to take over its server unit after a national security review.

Hitchhiking robot charms its way across Canada

3 hours ago

He has dipped his boots in Lake Superior, crashed a wedding and attended an Aboriginal powwow. A talking, bucket-bodied robot has enthralled Canadians since it departed from Halifax last month on a hitchhiking ...

Attack Ebola on a nanoscale

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 900 lives since February and has infected thousands more. Countries such as Nigeria and Liberia have declared health emergencies, ...

Phone snooping via gyroscope to be detailed at Usenix

7 hours ago

Put aside fears of phone microphones and cameras doing eavesdropping mischief for a moment, because there is another sensor that has been flagged. Researchers from Stanford and defense research group at Rafael ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0