Stress Management to Enhance Athletic Performance

Everyone talks about stress. Stress is usually associated with negative events. The pressures of competition, getting good grades, managing our time and dealing with parents, friends and relationships can cause stress. 

You can have positive or negative stress. Positive or good stress can be beneficial and help you grow. Good stress is called eustress. Eustress is the stress that gives us purpose and drive. It is the stress that:

  • Results in positive consequences
  • Involves change that requires adaptation
  • Allows for personal growth 

Both positive and negative stress can cause changes in our body. These changes can affect our mental state and thought processes. It is our perception about stress that creates the impact within our bodies.

Below are some negative stressors that occur in our bodies. Some of these negative stressors can slow your athletic performance.  They are broken down into categories of physical, emotional and behavioral stressors.  Review the list and note the ones you may experience from time to time.

Physiological Stressors

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased sweating
  • Increased pupil dilation
  • Rapid respiration
  • Blood flow to skin
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Increased oxygen intake
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Cotton mouth
  • Frequent urinating
  • Increased adrenalin

Mental Stressors

  • Worry
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Unable to decide
  • Feeling confused
  • Loss of concentration
  • Unable to direct attention
  • Feeling not in control
  • Narrowing of attention

Behavioral Stressors

  • Rapid talking
  • Nail biting
  • Foot tapping
  • Muscle twitch
  • Pacing
  • Scowling
  • Increased blinking
  • Yawning
  • Trembling
  • Broken voice

If you have noted several of these items, your athletic performance can be affected.

When you experience stress symptoms right before or at the start of competition, it is called performance anxiety. Performance anxiety may bring on symptoms such as:

  • Heart palpitations (fast heart beat)
  • Feelings of nervousness or dread (too many butterflies)
  • Racing thoughts  

Things that cause stress in our day-to-day lives can increase performance anxiety. Also, it may cause you to be stressed or out of energy during your performance. 

The key to managing stress better is to recognize whether you have control over the stressor. The best way to manage stress so that you perform at your best is to follow these steps: 

Change the Stressor

If something is bothering or stressing you that is within your control, change it or get away from it. If you cannot get away from the stressor, focus on the other ways to manage stress.  

Stay Prepared 

Staying prepared means something a bit different for everyone, but here are some general categories:  

  • Sleep: Know how much sleep you need and try to get that amount of sleep daily, even on weekends. Most teens need at least eight hours.   
  • Eating: Make sure you know what it means for you to eat a healthy diet, and make this a must daily.  
  • Exercise:  As an athlete, you probably think you are getting enough exercise.  Depending on your sport, however, that may or may not be true. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you get 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week.  It is also recommended that you strength train. Do not assume that just because you are active in season, you are getting enough.     

Maintain a Routine

Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. This will help you decrease performance anxiety in sport as well as life in general.   

Practice Optimism 

Our stress level has much to do with how we perceive our day-to-day lives. You can make a big difference in your own life and those around you by getting rid of negative thinking. Replace it with something positive.   


Proper breathing helps us control our body’s responses to stress. When you are really stressed, it is important to learn how to breathe deeply. Proper breathing can help you stay calm, focused and ready to perform. 

  • Learn to identify the stressors in your life, whether they are positive or negative.
  • Understand how stressors affect your performance.
  • Take one step at a time.
  • Remember that change happens over time.
  • Be patient with the changes you are making, knowing that you are creating new lifelong patterns. 

Last Updated 10/2012