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Effects on sports performance

Anxiety can lead to a number of negative effects on sports performance, preventing them from being the success that they desire.

Negative mental state

Performers lose self-belief and self-confidence in their ability to cope and manage the situation they are faced with. This has a negative affect on performance and any success for future performances.

Fear of failure

Athletes associated with high trait anxiety will often not enter competitions or events as they do not want to put themselves in a situation where they may lose for fear of embarrassment. This can also be linked to athletes that have NAF personalities who lack self-confidence and do not have high expectations of success.

Effect Example Result
Negative mental state

I am unable to win this competition as I am not good enough and feel very nervous.

Loses the competition and perceives failure for their next competition.

Fear of failure I do not want to take part in the competition as I know I will come last and people will laugh at me. Do not take part in the competition.

Individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF)

It has been suggested that each individual will perform at their very best when they are within their pre-performance anxiety zone. Once the performer is outside of their anxiety zone this will have a detrimental affect on performance. This IZOF model takes in to account performers emotions. Therefore, optimum performance will not only require the performer to be within their anxiety zone but within their optimal levels of emotion.


If an athlete has found their optimum level of arousal but emotionally they feel lethargic and lack determination, then they will not perform to the best of their ability.

As previously stated no athlete is the same and has varying levels of arousal which affects them in different ways.

Improvements and decrements in performance level. It is important that a coach and athlete understands how arousal affects performance in both a positive and negative way. Having an understanding of the theories will develop this knowledge. In line with the drive theory an elite athlete needs high levels of arousal in order to perform to their best. It is the level which needs to be discovered by the athlete, as arousal rises above the optimal level, the performance may have a detrimental affect as suggested by the inverted U theory.


This links to the catastrophe theory, suggesting that when cognitive arousal is high and somatic anxiety increases choking is likely to occur. Choking is the term provided when performance significantly decreases. Therefore an athlete needs to have developed strategies to deal with both cognitive and somatic anxiety in order to prevent having a poor performance.


Changes in attention and focus

An athlete's attention and focus can be easily changed throughout a performance as a result of their arousal zone this can lead to a decline in performance. Each athlete has their own optimal IZOF, once their levels of arousal become too low or too high again this may lead to negative performances.

Low arousal

Creates a broad attention field in which the athlete takes in both relevant and irrelevant cues.


A tennis player may be more focused on someone in the crowd shouting to them rather then the shot they are playing, resulting in losing the shot

High arousal

Creates a low attention field in which the athlete misses important cues.


A tennis player may be focused on the opponent and not seen that they have just played a dummy shot, therefore moving in the wrong direction.