Article Written By Jordan Pickett; Asst. Volleyball Coach at Southwestern University 

Young Woman Athlete Stressed Before The Game

Managing Stress for Athletes

The word stress often has only negative connotations, however, that is not always the case. Oftentimes stress is how athletes feel when they have a lot to manage but aren’t implementing tools to manage their daily life. This can be used for good. Tension is a feeling most often related to stress. The responsibilities of being a student, an athlete, a daughter, a son, a sister, a brother, a friend; a leader, a captain, student council vice president; all add up to potentially create pressure. Potentially is the key. The circumstances of an athlete’s life can be the same for many different athletes and they all perceive it a different way. 

Athlete Stress Defined

Stress should be a trigger that alerts athlete that something they are doing is important to them. Humans do not feel tension about things they do not care about. A high-stakes game creates tension because athletes want to win. A big project creates tension because students want to do well.

Yet, stress can be reframed. It is possible to not feel stressed because stress is the feeling of not being able to control an outcome, or fearing an outcome. Becoming fixed on that feeling is where stress lives. If an athlete or anyone for that matter reframes their circumstances, then stress can be bypassed for a more positive, confident, solution-based perspective. If people can see stress as an alert that something is important to them, then they can find a way to feel differently about the responsibilities they have. 

As a note here, a necessary distinction for the athlete in today’s world needs to be made and taught: An athlete is not their concentration, and mood swings making a situation that much more challenging. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, or more simply – as little processed food as possible – will help ease the tension in the brain and body.

Artificial sweeteners, flavors, and dyes in food negatively affect the immune system, hormones, and how the body processes nutrients. Eating well and sleeping more prepares the body to handle stress with more ease.

Top 5 Tips for Managing Stress 

 

  1. Manage sleep/Nutrition
  2. Engage In Play
  3. Practice Gratitude
  4. Unplug
  5. Improve Perspective
Mental Toughness Playbook With Key Insights From College Coaches By EXACT Sports

Am I Making My Sleep and Nutrition A Priority?

Making getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and eating foods high in nutrient density yet low in artificial additives, a priority will reduce how the body processes stress. The number one physical recovery tool in any athlete’s tool belt is sleep. Sleep is where everything gets reset for the demand of mental and physical training needed. Some immediate effects of sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours of sleep for 3 days in a row) are poor concentration and mood swings.

Stress can exacerbate the lack of concentration, and mood swings making a situation that much more challenging. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, or more simply – as little processed food as possible – will help ease the tension in the brain and body. Artificial sweeteners, flavors, and dyes in food negatively affect the immune system, hormones, and how the body processes nutrients. Eating well and sleeping more prepares the body to handle stress with more ease.

Am I Engaging In An Activity That Is Play?

Play is crucial to rest, recovery, and enjoying the work that is required to become a successful athlete. According to author, and social researcher, Brene Brown, play has to contain three elements: time spent without a purpose, something a person does not want to end, and has to lead to a loss of self-consciousness.  Engaging in play, whether it be coloring, a sport where the outcome holds no value, reading, creating, etc, generates joy and relieves stress. Creating time to play is vital to life’s enjoyment.

Basketball Player Warming Up and Feeling Stressed About The Game

Am I Practicing Gratitude?

Gratitude is the glue that holds growth, goals, and contentment together.  Gratitude, and positive perspectives do not come naturally. Therefore, athletes must change the way they see the world. Comparison, consistently talking about what one does not like or does not have, and especially voicing a lack of belief that circumstances can change are all evidence that an athlete would benefit from a practice of gratitude. A daily practice of gratitude helps produce not only serotonin and dopamine, but it creates a new perspective on a person’s engaged in uninterrupted conversation, people connect. More connection leads to less stress.

Am I Absorbing Information That Will Lead To A Better Perspective?

 A human subconscious is always receiving and storing information. It sifts through what is relevant to bring into conscious thinking, and leaves the rest dormant, until we need it. Athletes need to be intentional about the information that is bombarding their senses. Whatever they hear and see is being absorbed. If they are around negative people, always complaining, with no inclination toward improvement or growth that is the way they will also think. If they surround themselves with people who desire to grow and improve then they will as well.

Finding and listening to books, audiobooks, and podcasts that speak to the potential in an athlete’s life will drastically improve stress levels. Listening to how others overcame challenges, how they changed their perspective, how they persevered, how they handled time management, etc will help the athlete learn how to do those things in their own life.  See the end of the article for a few podcast and book suggestions to help improve perspective, in order to reduce stress

Challenge How You Think

The main difference between people that manage stress well, and people that don’t are that the people who manage stress well do not accept the circumstances as permanent or fact. There is a reality to every situation, yes, but all situations come and go. All challenges come and go. All projects, conflicts, and tasks come and they go. People that handle stress well choose to use stress as a trigger that something is valuable to them, and they actively seek solutions to manage stress.

You, too, can learn the skill of managing stress well, so well in fact that you are able to with practice move through stress quicker and quicker. Use these tools to improve your daily life, release tension, and create joy even in the challenging times in life. Challenge, and rising to it, is what make life worthwhile. Attend an EXACT Sports National Showcase Camp and train with D1, D2, and D3 college coaches on the importance of mental toughness in sports. 

Top Tools to help change your perspective 

Books

Getting to Neutral by Trevor Moawad

The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown

Mind Gym by Gary Mack & David Casstevens

The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robins

Podcasts

Level up with Debbie Neal

The Ed Mylett Show

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

The Mindset Mile with Aisha Zaza 

The Mindset Mentor with Rob Dial

Multiversity by Eric Thomas

Southwestern University Assistant Volleyball Coach Jordan Pickett