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A-level PE - Unit 3: Preparation for Optimum Sports Performance: Motivation / Stress Control

Resources to support A-level PE, Unit 3

Bandura’s model from a teaching rather than coaching point of view

Self-Efficacy: Helping Students Believe in Themselves

This summary was written and compiled by Karin Kirk, SERC, and contains an overview of motivation research and pertinent references.

A female student challenged to the point of frustration Self efficacy is commonly defined as the belief in one's capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome. Students with a strong sense of efficacy are more likely to challenge themselves with difficult tasks and be intrinsically motivated. These students will put forth a high degree of effort in order to meet their commitments, and attribute failure to things which are in their control, rather than blaming external factors. Self-efficacious students also recover quickly from setbacks, and ultimately are likely to achieve their personal goals. Students with low self-efficacy, on the other hand, believe they cannot be successful and thus are less likely to make a concerted, extended effort and may consider challenging tasks as threats that are to be avoided. Thus, students with poor self-efficacy have low aspirations which may result in disappointing academic performances becoming part of a self-fulfilling feedback cycle. (Bandura(more info) ) [Margolis and McCabe, 2006]

How can students gain self-efficacy?

There are four sources of self-efficacy. Teachers can use strategies to build self-efficacy in various ways.
Mastery experiences - Students' successful experiences boost self-efficacy, while failures erode it. This is the most robust source of self-efficacy.
Vicarious experience - Observing a peer succeed at a task can strengthen beliefs in one's own abilities.
Verbal persuasion - Teachers can boost self-efficacy with credible communication and feedback to guide the student through the task or motivate them to make their best effort. 
Emotional state -A positive mood can boost one's beliefs in self-efficacy, while anxiety can undermine it. A certain level of emotional stimulation can create an energizing feeling that can contribute to strong performances. Teachers can help by reducing stressful situations and lowering anxiety surrounding events like exams or presentations. 
[Margolis and McCabe, 2006] and (Bandura (more info) )

Coping Strategies


Denise Hamilton Hatch, founder of Yoga Sports Performance is committed to aligning top level, athletes, executives and individuals to their greatest potential to achieve their highest success.

What sets the good apart from the great is the mastery of the mind and the alignment of the body for one’s greatest power, performance and potential. Denise works with both.

For the MIND, Denise is an expert, extracting what impedes performance and goals, replacing defeating patterns and behaviors with consistant thoughts and beliefs that align one to their greatest potential and excellence with total conviction. Denise’s systemized plan includes: States of Suggestibility, mastering mental fluctuation, breath techniques with visualization, and developing personalized mental routines, . She has worked with athletes, beginner to pro, in every sport getting top results, creating champions. It is essential, to perform at the highest level, to eliminate self doubt and wavering thought transforming it into a consistant confidence and knowing. *For more information on mental performance, click on Performance.

For the BODY, Denise brings bio-mechanical alignment through yoga, and yoga therapy, to keep players in the game and keep athletes pliable and focused for consistant performance. Using yoga postures is a way to correct imbalance and gain pliability, but it’s also powerful for training the body to maintain a posture without restlessness while training the mind to stay present with the breath. Currently working with major league ball players, and NFL at Athletes Performance in Scottsdale, AZ she works at correcting imbalance, creating pliability, steady breath and steady focus. She also works in rehabilitation with teams such as NY Jets, US Soccer team, Motorsports and a multi-faceted group of people who want to feel better and stay at the top of their game be it sport, business or life. *For more information on the body, click on Yoga.

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Overcoming Performance Anxiety with Sports Psychology
Sports psychology tips can help you overcome performance anxiety in sports

By , Guide    Updated May 17, 2013 Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

Do you perform well during training or practice but choke in competition? If feelings of nervousness, anxiety or fear interfere with your sports performance, learning to use a few tips from sports psychology may help you get your anxiety under control and reduce game day nerves.

Performance anxiety in sports, sometimes referred to as 'choking,'is described as a decrease in athletic performance due to too much perceived stress. Perceived stress often increases in athletes on game day because (1) they have an audience and (2) they have extremely high expectations of their success. This type of stress is often based upon the way the athletes interpret the situation. It is rarely the external situation that causes stress, but rather the way the athlete's self talk describes the situation that creates feelings of stress, anxiety and fear. For athletes who choke during competition it is important to understand that the thoughts you have regarding the event can be modified, adjusted or controlled with appropriate sports psychology and mental practice.

An athlete should first determine if thoughts of doubt, failure or a lack of confidence are due to a perceived lack of ability. If so, the self talk will generally lead to continued feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and tension. Athlete need to realize that it's tough to do your best in a sport when your own internal voice is telling you otherwise.

To overcome performance anxiety, traditional coaches and trainers may try to help the athlete understand why those thoughts and feelings develop and then try to change or modify that process with limited amounts of success. Why such thoughts arise may be of interest, but knowing the answer isn't always necessary to overcome them.

Sports Psychology Tips to Help Reduce Performance Anxiety

Here are a few tips that may help change or redirect the negative self-talk.

Reduce Performance Anxiety Before the Event

  • Recognize that pre-race jitters are normal. Accept, rather than fight, the nervous energy you feel. Don't misinterpret it by thinking that it is fear. That adrenaline rush you feel is normal and it is part of your body's natural preparation for the competition. Notice it, but don't focus on it. Once the race starts, that feeling will subside, as it always does.
  • Prepare both mentally and physically. Arrive at the event with plenty of time so you aren't rushed, which only increases your stress. Get a thorough warm-up. Do some easy stretching. Know the course. Dress for conditions.
  • Visualize. Allow a few minutes to practice visualization. During this time you mentally rehearse, showing yourself doing everything right. Breathe easy, close your eyes and use mental imagery to visualize yourself performing well. This positive self-talk can change your attitude. While athletes need to be flexible enough to react during the event, you should enter the event with a general strategy of how you want to race. Your strategy can be simple (maintain a steady pace or maintain a steady heart rate) or complex.

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Anxiety and Athletic Performance: Strategies for Calming Game-Day Nerves

By , Guide      Updated July 07, 2012 Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

Everyone gets a little nervous before a big game or athletic event. However, for those who experience the severe symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder (SAD), the quality of their athletic performance will often suffer. The relationship between anxiety and athletic performance is so strong that a whole field of psychology -- sport psychology -- has been devoted to helping athletes combat nerves. Fortunately, you can use a number of strategies to help overcome game-day jitters and manage anxiety before it gets out of hand.


Many elite athletes use visualization to improve performance, develop confidence, and manage anxiety. Visualization, also known as imagery or mental rehearsal, involves imagining yourself successfully competing at an athletic event.

In order to make visualization work, close your eyes and imagine the physical movements that you would make in order to be successful in competition. Try to imagine yourself moving at the same speed as you would in real life. Also, make sure that you are imagining from your own perspective -- not from that of an observer. You should be viewing the scene (the crowd, the field) as you would if you were really there -- not watching yourself compete.

Some tips for making visualization work? Do whatever you can to make the imagined experience seem as real as possible. If going to an empty football field and sitting on the bench helps you make the imagined experience more real, by all means do so. If the noise of the crowd is likely to distract you during competition, see if you can find an audio recording with crowd noises that you can play while you visualize the event. Whatever you can do to make the imagined experience feel real will aid in translating what you imagine into what you achieve.

Goal Setting

Clearly defined goals help to measure success -- but goals that are too lofty can leave you overwhelmed and unsure of your abilities. Choose goals that are achievable but challenging, and when possible, break tasks down into smaller parts with a series of short-term goals.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are helpful for reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heart rate, tense muscles and quick and shallow breathing. These techniques can be used at any time leading up to a performance or competition, and may be particularly helpful when practiced the night before or in the hours preceding an event to help keep nerves at bay. Two of the most common relaxation techniques are diaphragmatic breathingand progressive muscle relaxation.

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The sports psychology of tennis
Game, set, and match – developing resilient self-confidence in tennis

Professor Andy Lane looks at the mental qualities needed to be an elite tennis player, and offers practical suggestions on how tennis players can improve their mental game

Imagine the scene. It’s the Wimbledon final and the first game of the match. The game begins and scoring goes as follows; 15-love, 30-love, 45-love and game. After each point the umpire calls the score over the public address system for both players and spectators to hear.

A closer analysis of this sequence of events indicates that one player has been told they are winning five times, before winning the game, whereas the other player has received the same information about losing the game. We know that success develops self-confidence, both in terms of our own performance (winning each point), and being told that we are being successful by significant others (the umpire, calling out the score, providing information of our success).

Tennis players are constantly bombarded during the course of the game on how well they are performing. Possibly, in no other sport is the score so clearly and constantly expressed to the players and spectators. Despite constant reinforcement of the score, it is possible for a player to win more points, but lose the game. For example, if a player loses a match 6-4/6-4, but all the winning games are won to love and the losing games lost only after reaching deuce, he or she would have actually won 40 points in each set, and lost only 24, despite losing the match overall!

In the hypothetical example described above, the difference between who won and who lost would be decided on just 8 points. In this article, we look at how the mental toughness of tennis players can be developed so that they can cope in an environment where confidence can be easily dented and where resilience and determination needs to remain high.

Ready for action

Tennis players need to develop a resilient degree of self-confidence. They are bombarded with information that can affect self-confidence and therefore need to focus on positive information, where sometimes positive information is hard to find.

During a tennis match, players have only themselves for comfort as they are not allowed to speak with their coach during the game. Tennis players need to introspect, and call on inner reserves to maintain self-confidence during a game. Studies have shown that winning tennis players report high levels of self-confidence, and low anxiety(1), are able to control emotions before competition(2) and can use adaptive coping skills(3). 
Research also shows that tennis players’ psychological states can be enhanced with appropriate psychological skills training(4), and it is with this in mind that the present article will attempt to offer practical strategies to enhance tennis players’ mental game, based on scientific evidence.
The first thing I do with tennis players is to explore their general self-confidence towards playing tennis. Self-confidence in tennis is different to a more general concept known as self-esteem, which relates to how they value themselves as a person (more later). The aim is to try and ensure that the inner dialogue that runs through a player’s mind focuses on the recalling  of previous successes.

The brain and memory are very complex. Sometimes we find it difficult to remove negative thoughts in situations that require us to be positive. When I work with athletes, I try to encourage them to record as many positive features from their training and competition as possible. For example, where tennis players have had a very good session practising serves, it is important that they recall as much information from that practice session as soon as possible.

They should recall how they felt prior to serving excellently, what their thoughts were in the preparation phase before serving, what they were concentrating on while executing the serve, and how they felt about seeing the serve going where they wanted it to go. Equally, it is important to record situations where performance didn’t go as planned, and unravel how the athlete felt before, during and after those performances. By developing a performance diary it is possible to see individual trends in psychological states, particularly the inner dialogue and thought processes, and how they relate to performance.

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Catastrophe Theory in Practice

Competitive anxiety in sports, types and basic explanation of theory


    Competitive Anxiety

Competition can cause athletes to react both physically (somatic) and mentally (cognitive) in a manner which can negatively affect their performance abilities. Stress, arousal and anxiety are terms used to describe this condition.

The major problem in competition is letting your mind work against you rather than for you. You must accept anxiety symptoms as part and parcel of the competition experience; only then will anxiety begin to facilitate your performance. Gallwey (2000)[8] explains the elements of interference that impact on performance.

  • Performance = Potential - Interference.

Anxiety - Performance Relationship Theory

Drive Theory

According to the Drive Theory (Zajonc 1965)[7] if an athlete is appropriately skilled then it will help them to perform well if their drive to compete is aroused - they are "psyched up".

Inverted-U hypothesis

An alternative approach to Drive Theory is known as the Inverted-U hypothesis (Yerkes 1908)[2] that predicts a relationship between arousal and performance approximates to an inverted U shape. The theory is that as arousal is increased then performance improves but only up to a certain point (top of the inverted U). If the athlete's arousal is increased beyond this point then performance diminishes.

Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory

Multi-dimensional Anxiety Theory (Martens 1990)[3] is based on the distinction between cognitive anxiety and somatic anxiety. The theory makes a series of predictions:

  • There will be a negative but linear relationship between cognitive anxiety and performance
  • There will be an inverted U relationship between somatic anxiety and performance
  • Somatic anxiety should decline once performance begins but cognitive anxiety may remain high if confidence is low

Catastrophe Theory

Catastrophe Theory (Hardy 1987)[6] suggests that:

  • stress and anxiety will influence performance
  • each athlete will respond in a unique way to competitive anxiety
  • performance will be effected in a unique way which may be difficult to predict using general rules

Optimum Arousal Theory

According to the Optimum Arousal Theory (Hanin 1997)[4] each athlete will perform at their best if their level of arousal or competitive anxiety falls within their optimum functioning zone. The challenge for the coach is to determine the athlete's zone and identify the techniques that will place the athlete in this zone prior to competition.


Trait and State Anxiety


Trait and state anxiety

Anxiety can be defined as an unpleasant state of mental uneasiness or concern that causes physical and psychological discomfort. Extreme anxiety disrupts and unsettles behaviour by lowering the individual's concentration and affecting their muscular control. Any sporting game or contest can give rise to anxiety when one's perceived ability does not measure up to the demands of the task.

Trait anxiety

Trait anxiety refers to a general level of stress that is characteristic of an individual, that is, a trait related to personality. Trait anxiety varies according to how individuals have conditioned themselves to respond to and manage the stress. What may cause anxiety and stress in one person may not generate any emotion in another. People with high levels of trait anxiety are often quite easily stressed and anxious.

State anxiety

State anxiety is characterised by a state of heightened emotions that develop in response to a fear or danger of a particular situation. State anxiety can contribute to a degree of physical and mental paralysis, preventing performance of a task or where performance is severely affected, such as forgetting movements during a dance or gymnastic routine, to breaking in sprint or swim starts or missing relatively easy shots at goal i.e. pressure situations.

For some athletes sports anxiety can be a valuable motivator, e.g. contact sports such as rugby, whereas other sports require a very low level of anxiety for successful performances, e.g. archery, pistol shooting.

Athletes can learn to manage anxiety using techniques such as relaxation, hypnotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and positive thinking. For state anxiety, therapies focus on the specific situations causing stress to the athlete whereas Trait anxiety requires a broader approach.