Entries in Stress (4)


Sleep and it's Importance in Rowing

From: usrowingjrs.org

By: Steve Hargis

Take a look at the US Junior Rowing page. It is an excellent resource for those who are looking at being competitive junior rowers or coaches.

The article below is an important oversite by many athletes and coaches who tend to take this for granted. This can be a cause of Unexplained Under Performance Syndrome or over-reaching.

Why is sleep important?

Several studies have shown that individuals who engage in regular bouts of physical activity have an increased need for total sleep time and for slow-wave (Stage 3 & 4) sleep.  Repair and growth are maximized during these stages since non-growth-related metabolic activity is reduced while the pituitary releases growth hormones.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

Individuals deprived of 30 hours of sleep show an 11% reduction in cardiovascular function, and those deprived of 50 hours of sleep show a 20% reduction.  Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is likely cumulative, so if an athlete needing 8 hours of sleep per night gets only 6 hours, she will see a significant degradation in performance after only 15 days.  Sleep deprivation also results in a 20% reduction in the detection/reaction response, and an even greater reduction in cognitive tasks involving learning, memory, logical reasoning and decision-making.  Finally, sleep deprivation has been associated with increased levels of depression, stress, anxiety, worry and frustration.

How much sleep do you need?

To determine how much sleep an athlete needs, ideally she would spend a week or two going to bed at a consistent time, waking up naturally without the use of an alarm, and recording how long she slept each night until she reaches a consistent number of hours.  Since this test is difficult to complete in practice (especially while in college!), answering “yes” to two or more questions on the following sleep quiz indicates a need for more sleep than you are currently getting:

• Do you frequently fall asleep if given a sleep opportunity (eg. in class, in movies, other quiet, dark environments)
• Do you usually need an alarm clock to wake you?
• Do you tend to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends?
• Once awake do you feel tired most mornings?
• Do you frequently take naps during the day?

How can you increase the quality of your sleep?

Keeping a regular sleep schedule is the most important means of improving sleep quality.  Inconsistent sleep patterns cause disruptions to one’s internal clock, and increases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.  Once a regular bedtime has been established, adjustments to earlier or later should be limited to 30 minutes per night.  Similarly, athletes should wake up within an hour of their normal wake-up time, even on weekends.

Creating a high-quality sleep environment that is quiet, dark, cool and comfortable is also important.  Student athletes might establish a quiet policy in their suite after a certain hour, post a “Do Not Disturb Sign” on their door, or use ear plugs or a fan to mask noise.  Turning electronic devices such as clocks and computers away from the bed, using window blinds, and stuffing towels under the door to block hallway light may help create a darker environment.  Opening a window or using a fan can help to cool a room, while additional blankets can help if a room is too cold. 




Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Recovery Index (RI) and Heart Rate Variability Index (HRVI)

By: Eddie Fletcher, Fletcher Sport Science Ltd 2007
A briefing note written by Sports Physiologist and Coach Eddie Fletcher
Accurate tools for assessing Psychological Stress, Physiological Workload and Recovery in Athletes

General Introduction

There are a number of factors which influence training and race performance, ranging from daily living (work and family), diet and hydration, cold, heat and humidity through to the lack of adequate rest and recovery. It is important to understand how stressful a normal training day is and to know the extent of overnight recovery.

The human heart is a wonderful barometer of the overall psychological stress and physical workload experienced by the body. The heart is a muscle, it gets tired and like any other muscle requires time to recover if optimum training and race performance is to be maintained.

The heart responds automatically and immediately to any increase or decrease in stress level. This heart rate response can be used to manage and mitigate the risk of over training, under recovery, illness or injury, to the body.

By monitoring the influence of psychological stress and physiological workload it is possible to use an analysis of heart rate to monitor overnight recovery and to moderate the duration and intensity of training to match the extent of recovery.

The consequences of getting it wrong should not be under estimated. Unless ‘listening to your heart’’ is normal practice deterioration in performance can occur almost unseen.

What are the benefits of measuring daily stress?

• Maximize recovery between training sessions
• Know how travelling, jetlag, high altitude and other stressors influence stress and recovery
• Learn how different daily routines enable and limit recovery
• Measure recovery between training sessions when training in high altitude
• Assess how travelling and jetlag influences recovery after a competition
• Check for social and psychological stressors that influence recovery
• Check athlete's daily routines for arrangements that could be done better to minimize stress during the day
• Interpret results together with athlete to detect stressors that influence recovery and to plan things that could be done differently in the future
• Repeat the daily stress recordings and observe how changes in daily routines influence stress and recovery

What are the benefits of measuring recovery?

• Detect early signs of overtraining or illness
• Optimize training load by finding the balance between training load and recovery
• Evidence based support for critical coaching decisions
• Record individual reference values e.g. during off-season when the body is recovered
• Check the recovery status during hard training periods
• Check recovery status when subjective feelings and fitness level indicates poor recovery
• Make sure that the body is recovered sufficiently before a new hard training period

How does it work?

Tracking daily stress and overnight recovery needs only one physiological signal – beat-by-beat heart rate data (the R-R interval). This measurement may be carried out during normal daily routines, whilst training and whilst sleeping. Although the data collection procedure is simple, the analysis methodology produces accurate recovery information.

Under resting conditions, healthy athletes show a periodic variation in the R-R interval. This rhythmic fluctuation is caused by breathing. Heart rate increases whilst breathing in and decreases when breathing out.

By accurately measuring the time interval between heartbeats (known as Heart Rate Variability HRV) it is possible to use the detected variation in time to measure the psychological and physiological stress and fatigue on the body. Generally speaking the more relaxed and free from fatigue the body is, the more variable the time between heartbeats. Increased Heart Rate Variability is linked to good health; decreased Heart Rate Variability is linked to stress or fatigue.

Heart Rate Variability also distributes as a function of Frequency.

Because of the characteristics of the increase (high frequency HF) and decrease (very low and low frequency LF) of the heart beat, changes in this frequency distribution can be used to monitor overall daily stress and overnight recovery.

Recovery is strongly associated with high frequency reactions and stress with low frequency reactions. These values are highly individual and the most sensitive markers for monitoring stress and recovery status. By looking at the difference from athlete specific baseline values the status of stress and recovery can be monitored and a

Recovery Index or Heart Rate Variability Index created.

The  intensity  of  stress/recovery  is  calculated  from  the  HF,  LF,  Respiration rate and HR.

How easy is it to collect the data?

Very easy, simply wear a Suunto t6 or Suunto Memory Belt during training sessions and overnight. The log is downloaded into Suunto Training manager software and Firstbeat SPORTS or Firstbeat PRO for detailed analysis.

What is a Recovery Index?

The Recovery Index is the relationship between the total duration of the Stress (low frequency) and Recovery (high frequency) reactions during an overnight measurement. The index is generally calculated from the first 4 hours of sleeping time as this time period is the most sensitive time for detecting recovery status. Average values provide information for both stress and recovery reactions during the selected time period indicating the relative strength of the reactions.

The intensity of the Stress/Recovery is calculated from the high and low Heart Rate Frequency mix, Respiration Rate and Heart Rate. The Recovery Index is represented by two numbers i.e. 60/100. The left number represents Stress reactions with the right number representing Recovery reactions.

Athletes need to measure their own individual baseline values at rest and compare subsequent values against the baseline figures.

What is a Heart Rate Variability Index?

Another useful tool for detecting recovery is the Heart Rate Variability Index

This is a single number and reflects the slowing down of the heart. The index can be used to detect recovery from an overnight recording. A high index figure represents increased recovery and a low value poor recovery.

During the day the value should be at least 15 but normally over 25. During the night the value should be at least 50 % higher (20-30) although athletes can have a value of several hundred (athlete above is 100 +). These limits are just guidelines; medication, heritage and training status also influence HRV level. Research indicates that these limits may be associated with burn-out.

As with the Recovery Index an individual baseline Heart Rate Variability Index value would need to be established for comparison purposes.


The ratio for this athlete is 42/100 and represents full recovery. For this athlete normal 100% recovery is 40-110

During a period of high stress for a different athlete a ratio of 117/74 represents under recovery. For this athlete normal 100% recovery range is 60-100

Tracking the Recovery Index

There are some endurance athletes whose heart rate level is so low during the night that despite the changes in HF and LF levels the night recording appears to show mainly recovery reactions.

The overall index may indicate 100% recovery when the underlying values show under recovery. It is important to get a reference level by measuring athlete specific baseline values in a rested state and comparing future results to the baseline figures.

In the example below note 100% recovery during the period 6/11/2007 to 18/11/2007.

Baseline resting values for this athlete 50 (stress)/115 (recovery)

By looking at the individual figures for stress and recovery the true extent of stress or recovery can be determined and compared against baseline level.

The intensity of the stress reactions

The intensity of the recovery reactions.

Normally when recovery increases, stress level decreases and vice versa. It will be noted that although the overall index shows 100% recovery for the 16/11/2007 the Recovery Index is approximately 85/100 which when compared against baseline 50/115.

Am I fully recovered?

More precise answers are obtainable with a long measurement history.

In this example the days when the athlete is recovered are marked on both the Stress and Recovery follow-up charts.

Stress reactions:

Recovery reactions:

Am I tired but training can continue? Am I tired and must rest.

These are the too hardest questions to answer and this is where the experience of the athlete and coach in using the Recovery Index is important. When the goal is to train hard and upset the body’s homeostasis the stress level should increase and recovery decrease.

In the charts above the hard training period was 18/10/07 – 25/10/07 (8 days). Based on the rate of recovery (recovery occurred within two days - see Recovery index 27.10.07) the overreaching period was successful.

The chart below is another athlete training at high altitude 12/10-07 – 27/10/07. The last measurement was 25/10/07. The recovery level was below baseline value all the time and the athlete reported subjective feelings of “big fatigue”. This 15 days hard training period without any easy days may have been too long. Time to reach baseline values after the training period took 10 days (recovery occurred 07/11/07).

When will I know I can train again?

After ending the last hard training period, the recovery level should be measured daily to see when the baseline values are reached again. In the example above, the new training period could be started on 07/11/07 or later.


Measuring recovery is a vital component of any training programme if an athlete is to maintain optimum training and race performance. ‘Listening to your heart’ must become normal practice to avoid deterioration in performance, illness or injury.

More information

Coaches and Athletes are referred to the following articles by Eddie Fletcher for more detailed information

Peak Performance Issues:

• 237 Heart rate variability – what is it and how can it be used to enhance athletic performance
• 246 Using HRV to optimize rest and recovery
• 253 Duration-intensity-recovery: a new training concept

Also see www.fletchersportscience.co.uk for further reference articles.

Eddie Fletcher can be contacted by email eddie@fletchersportscience.co.uk

Note: Some sections of this briefing guide are based upon copyrighted materials owned by Firstbeat Technologies Ltd. They are reproduced with the permission.


Monitoring of Stress in Trained Male Rowers

By: Jaak Jurimae, Priit Purge, Jarek Maestu, Terje Soot, Toivo Jurimae.
From: Journal of Human Kinetics Volume 7, 2002
Site Link: International Association of Sports Kinetics
Article Link: Monitoring of Stress in Trained Male Rowers

The effect of rapidly increased training volume on performance and recovery stress state over a six-day training camp was investigated in trained male rowers (n=17). The training regimen consisted mainly of low-intensity on-water rowing and resistance training, in total 19.6±3.8 h, corresponding to an approximately 100% increase in training load. 2000 meter rowing ergometer (Concept II, Morrisville, USA) performance time increased from 396.9±10.8 to 406.2±11.9 s (p<0.05) as a result of this training period. The Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire for Athletes revealed an increase in somatic components of stress (Fatigue, Somatic Complaints, Fitness/Injury) and a decrease in recovery factors (Success, Social Relaxation, Sleep Quality, Fitness/Being in Shape, Self-Efficacy). Relationships were observed between increased training volume, and Fatigue (r=0.49), Somatic Complaints (r=0.50) and Sleep Quality (r=-0.58) at the end of the training camp. In summary, rowing performance decrement indicated a state of short-term overreaching at the end of a six-day high load training period.

Overreaching was further diagnosed by changes in specific stress and recovery scales of the RESTQ-Sport for athletes. The RESTQ-Sport for athletes could be used to monitor heavy training stress in trained rowers.

Key Words: rowing, performance, overreaching, recovery-stress questionnaire


It has been demonstrated that there is a dose-response relationship between training stress and performance (Steinacker et al. 1998). Furthermore, it is evident that underestimation or overestimation of trainability and recovery will lead to inappropriate training response or overtraining of the athlete. Optimal performance is only achieved when athletes optimally balance training stress with adequate recovery (Steinacker et al. 1999, 2000). However, the impact of recovery has received comparatively little attention (Kellmann & Günther 2000).

The existence of dose-response relationship has also been demonstrated between training volume and mood disturbances (Raglin 1993). Increases in training volume correspond to elevations in mood disturbances (Morgan et al. 1987). Mood improvements occur when training volume is decreased (Morgan et al. 1987; Raglin 1993). Psychometric monitoring of endurance athletes has mostly focused on the relationship between overtraining and mood (Raglin 1993). However, one approach to monitor training is the measurement of the athletes view of stress and recovery at the same time and to examine the balance/imbalance between these two aspects as restricting the analysis to the stress dimension alone could not be sufficient for elite athletes (Kellmann & Günther 2000; Steinacker et al. 1999). The recovery-stress state indicates the extent to which someone is physically and/or mentally stressed as well as whether or not the person is capable of using individual strategies for recovery and which strategies are used (Kellmann & Günther 2000). Recovery and stress should be treated using a multilevel approach, dealing with psychological, emotional, cognitive behavioral/performance and social aspects of the problem, considering these aspects both separately and together (Kellmann & Günther 2000).

The purpose of the present study was to monitor the relationship between rapidly increased training volume, rowing performance and the recovery-stress state perceived by the Estonian male rowers.

Material and Methods

Seventeen national level male rowers volunteered to participate in the study (18.6±2.0 yrs; 186.9±5.7 cm; 82.4±6.9 kg). The subjects had trained regularly for the last 4.7±2.2 years. The training period constituted their first training camp on water after the winter training period. The rowers were fully familiarized with the procedures before providing their written informed consent to participate in the experiment as approved by the Medical Ethics Committee of the University of Tartu.

The training during the six-day training period amounted to 19.6±3.8 h, which was equivalent to an average increase in training load by approximately 100% compared with their average weekly training during the preceding four weeks. In total, 12 training sessions were completed during the heavy training period compared to six training sessions during previous four weeks. The training load included 85% of low-intensity endurance training (rowing or running), 5% high-intensity anaerobic training (rowing) and 10% resistance training. Rowing performance and recovery-stress state of rowers were assessed before (Test 1) and after (Test 2) the six-day training period. Maximal 2000 metre rowing ergometer test was performed on a wind resistance braked rowing ergometer (Concept II, Morrisville, USA). The Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire for Athletes (RESTQ-Sport) (Kellmann & Kallus 2000) was used to measure the level of current stress of rowers taking recovery-associated activities into consideration (Kellmann & Günther 2000) before and after the heavy training period. The RESTQ-Sport is constructed in a modular way including 12 scales of the general Recovery-Stress-Questionnaire and additional seven sportspecific scales (Kellmann & Günther 2000, Kellmann & Kallus 2000). The RESTQ-Sport consists of 77 items (19 scales with four items each plus one warm-up item) and the 24 hour test-retest reliability has been reported to be above r=0.79 (Kellmann & Kallus 2000). Therefore, it is assumed that inter-individual differences in the recovery-stress state can be well reproduced and the results of the RESTQ-Sport are stable regarding short-term functionary fluctuations and short-term changes of state (Kellmann & Kallus 2000). The 24-hour test-retest reliability of the Estonian version of RESTQ-Sport was also relatively high (r>0.74; n=17). The inter-correlation of the scales indicates that stress and recovery can be seen as two partly independent factors, which allows to analyze the data on the basis of single scales as well as on the factors of stress and recovery (Kellmann & Günther 2000). The first seven scales cover different aspects of subjective strain (General Stress, Emotional Stress, Social Stress, Conflicts/Pressure, Fatigue, Lack of Energy, and Somatic Complaints) as well as the resulting consequences. Success is the only resulting recovery-oriented scale, which is concerned with performance in general but not in a sportspecific context. Social Relaxation, Somatic Relaxation, General Well-Being, and Sleep are the basic scales of the recovery area. Sport-specific details of stress (Injury, Emotional Exhaustion, and Disturbed Breaks) and recovery (Being in Shape, Personal Accomplishment, Self-Regulation, and Self-Efficacy) are examined in scales 13 to 19 (Kellmann & Günther 2000, Kellmann & Kallus 2000). A Likert-type scale is used with values ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (always) indicating how often the respondent participated in various activities during the preceding three days/nights. The mean of each scale can range from 0 to 6, with high scores in the stress-associated activity scales reflecting intense subjective strain, whereas high scores in the recovery-oriented scales mirror plenty recovery activities (Kellmann & Günther 2000, Kellmann & Kallus 2000).

Mean values and standard deviations (SD) were determined. Paired t-tests (two-tailed) were used comparing results from Test 1 to Test 2. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated between dependent variables and changes in dependent variables during the heavy training period. For all tests, the level of significance was set at 0.05.


2000 metre rowing performance time was significantly increased after the heavy training period (396.9±10.8 vs. 406.2±11.9 s; p<0.05). The recovery-stress state of rowers changed significantly during the heavy training period (Fig. 1). An increase (p<0.05) in Fatigue, Somatic Complaints, and Fitness/Injury from stress-related scales, and a decrease (p<0.05) in Success, Social Relaxation, Sleep Quality, Fitness/Being in Shape and Self-Efficacy from recovery-associated activities were observed (Table 1). Increased training volume (19.6±3.8 h) of rowers was significantly related to the 2000 metre performance time measured in Test 2 (r=0.59). Significant relationships were observed between increased training volume, and Fatigue (r=0.49), Somatic Complaints (r=0.50) and Sleep Quality (r=-0.58) scales of the recovery-stress questionnaire at the end of heavy training period.

Table 1. Significant changes in the scales of RESTQ-Sport for athletes after the training period compared to the results obtained before the training period.

RESTQ-Sport Scales O N Example Question P-value
Fatigue S 4 I was overtired 0.008
Somatic Complaints S 4 I felt physically exhausted 0.004
Success R 4 I was successful in what I did 0.031
Social Relaxation R 4 I had a good time with my friends 0.026
Sleep Quality R 4 I fell asleep satisfied and relaxed 0.03
Fitness/Injury S 4 Parts of my body were aching 0.014
Fitness/Being in Shape R 4 I was in good condition physically 0.047
Self-Efficacy R 4 I was convinced that I had trained well 0.049

O, scale orientation; N, number of questions in each scale; S, stress, R, recovery.


The present study investigated whether psychometric parameters could be used to assess short-term overreaching in competitive rowers. The regimen of extremely heavy training period followed by a period of sufficient rest is widely practiced in different endurance events (Jeukendrup et al. 1992, Steinacker et al. 1998). Furthermore, overreaching has been reported to be an integral part of a successful training program (Steinacker et al. 1998, 1999, 2000). Success in rowing is characterized by the amount of time spent on water as low-intensity endurance training (Jürimäe et al. 2001, Steinacker et al. 1998). The increased training volume of 19.6±3.8 h per week performed by our subjects has been reported to be typical in high load training phases for well trained rowers (Steinacker et al. 1998).

The RESTQ-Sport for athletes has been used to assess the subjective stress and recovery during training cycles for major competitions in German rowers (Kellmann & Günther 2000, Steinacker et al. 2000). The Estonian version of the RESTQ-Sport also allowed the psychometric assessment of competitive rowers during rapidly increased training volume in preparation camp when the focus was only on low intensity rowing. The results of this study suggest that a dose-response relationship exists between training volume and the subjective assessment of somatic components of stress and recovery. High duration was indicated by the elevated levels of stress and simultaneous lowered levels of recovery in trained rowers (Fig. 1). This is in line with other investigations (Kellmann & Günther 2000, Morgan et al. 1987), which have found that increases in training volume correspond to increases in mood disturbances and mood improvements occur when training volume is reduced. The results of the current study demonstrated that the RESTQ-Sport for athletes objectively reflected the state of rowers during the short-term overreaching period.

The psychometric scales of stress such as Fatigue and Somatic Complaints were significantly increased after the heavy training period and related to the increased training volume (r>0.49), suggesting a dose-response relationship between training volume and mood disturbance during basic low-intensity endurance training period. Similarly to the results of our study, the values of the Fatigue and Somatic Complaints scales have been reported to increase relatively early in parallel with increased training volume, while the scores of General Stress are quite stable and low for a relatively long period (Steinacker et al. 1999).

The lowered levels of Success, Social Relaxation, Sleep Quality, Fitness/Being in Shape and Self Efficacy from recovery-associated scales demonstrated that emotional, physical and social aspects of recovery were not adequate during this training camp when training volume was rapidly increased.

For example, a significant decrease in Social Relaxation scale demonstrated a drop in social activities during the heavy training period. However, it should always be considered that recovery is a process to reestablish psychological and physical resources (Kellmann & Günther 2000). Athletes should be aware of the importance of active recovery in the training process. This is even more crucial during preparation camps in rowers, when the focus is mostly on low-intensity, high volume training (Kellmann & Günther 2000). Adequate recovery during phases of heavy training allows for the adaptation of the athlete to stress and prevent from overtraining (Raglin 1993). The results of this study demonstrate that the RESTQ-Sport for athletes reflects the extent of different aspects of recovery in addition to stress during the monotonous heavy training of the preparatory period in highly trained rowers.


The monitoring of training adaptation and the adaptation state of an athlete appears to be a very complex task. The results of this study demonstrated performance incompetence by the end of a six-day overreaching training period and were interpreted to reflect a state of short-term overreaching. Overreaching was further diagnosed by changes in specific stress and recovery scales of the RESTQ-Sport for athletes.


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Peak Performance under Stress: 11 Guidelines for Winning Coaching

By: Diego Picon
PDF Link: Peak Performance under Stress: 11 Guidelines for Winning Coaching 

Stress is a direct result of an athlete or team focusing on, and trying to control the "uncontrolables" within their sport (i.e., officiating, play of opponents, playing conditions, crowd, etc.). When an athlete focuses on these uncontrollables he/she is more likely to tighten up and "choke." The following are some brief guidelines to follow to help you train your athletes to better manage competitive stress.


When an athlete focuses on the importance of the game, winning and losing, or anything to do with the outcome of the performance, he/she is in big trouble. This focus distracts the athlete from a performance focus, tightens them up physically and insures that play will be tight and tentative. Get your athletes to focus on specifically what they have to do to win, not on winning.


If you can help your athletes understand the relationship between their level of nervousness and how well they perform you will have taken a major step towards helping them to better handle pressure. If an athlete can "read" their nervousness preperformance and can tell the difference between "good", "bad", and "not enough" nervous, then they will be in a better position to be able to do something about their arousal level before it's too late.


This is not how to teach relaxation. Instead, spend a small amount of time preseason providing your athletes with a number of mental skills that they can use to help them to better relax under pressure. Not all members of your team will need these, but you'll do far more good than not by investing a small amount of practice time offering 2-3 relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, breathing exercises, etc.) to everyone. Armed with ways of cooling down, your athletes will be less likely to fall apart under stress.


Reframe adversity teaches your athletes how to use whatever adversity comes their way to boost confidence rather than erode it. Help your players see that poor weather conditions, bad call by the officials, unsportsmanlike play, fatigue, etc., can work for them. There is always an advantage in a disadvantage. Train your players to find it.


The surest way to get your athletes to tighten up and play poorly is by being too serious. Peak performance comes out of having fun. You play your very best when you are enjoying the competition; regardless of the level. By using humor as a coach, you can help your at-athletes stay loose, keep the game in perspective and perform like champions. An athlete that is too serious is an at-athletes who has a tendency to choke under pressure.


If you make the competition "bigger than life" your athletes' performances will suffer. If the game is built up too much, or if that "must win" situation becomes too important, then chances are you will not get a good game from your team. Helping in helping them handle a highly pressured situation. An athlete that chokes usually has lost his/her perspective and made the competition much too important.


Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. It's the quality of your practices that is ultimately responsible for how much your athletes get from practice tune and how well they handle highly pressured situations. Integrate competitive elements into your practices to help your athletes better adjust to the actual pressure of game day. The more your practices resemble competitions, the less chance your athletes will have of falling apart under pressure. If your athletes have trouble with bad calls, certain playing conditions, being down early, etc., simulate these elements as closely as possible in your practices.


In practice create an atmosphere of "nothing to lose" or "free to fail". When athletes are not concerned about making mistakes they perform their best. If your players are worrying about messing up they will be distracted enough and tight enough to indeed mess up. Encourage your players to let their mistakes go immediately and to focus on what they want to have happen, not what they are afraid will happen. Reward mistakes when an athlete has truly gone for it, when they have given a winning effort. If you can teach your athletes to become oblivious to failure and mistakes (i.e., that they learn from them and that they are useful only for feedback on how to improve), then they will perform well for you.


At every level of play, athletes get stressed out when they attach their self worth to the quality of their performance (i.e., "I played well so therefore I am a winner", "I was awful and therefore I am a not a good person"). You set the tone for this in how you coach and interact to your athletes. Do not make the mistake of equating their performance with how you feel about them. If you do not make this separation, then they will not be able to understand and their performance will suffer. If your ego is on the line every time you compete you have a lot to lose. When you play with a lot to lose, you will most likely get stressed out and play poorly.


When an athlete or team is threatened with consequences should they not perform well, they will consistently fall apart when the game is on the line. Threats only serve to distract the athlete from the task at hand and get them to worry about the consequences for failure. Focusing on the "what if's" of losing is the last thing you want your athletes to do before and during an important game. Instead, challenge them. Give them the message, which is implicit in any challenge that you think that they can do it, that you believe in them. Athletes will most frequently rise to your challenges and respond poorly or inconsistently to your threats.


Most stress related performance problems are a direct result of faulty concentration. The athlete that gets easily psyched out or intimidated does so because he or she is focusing on the wrong things (i.e., the actual or imagined prowess of the other player or team). Help your athletes concentrate on specifically what they have to do to play well. Teach them to "control their eyes and ears", to only look at, or listen to things that keep them composed and performing their best.