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October 2020
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How does stress affect sports performance?

It is not something that we read about very often but the issue of stress is one that is at the heart of playing football at a professional level.   Just as actors, musicians, TV presenters and others may or may not feel nerves upon getting up on the stage or in front of the cameras, so some players in a game can feel relaxed or nervous depending on their state of mind, and the amount of mental training and support they are given.

There is no doubt that for many years in football the macho approach has been dominant.  Players who feel nerves should “man up” or else “get out of the game”.  A real man, it is felt, just goes out there and does his best.  Be tough, be strong, don’t let them see you are nervous.

But the reality is there are a million different responses that can be felt towards the roar of the crowd, the abuse of the crowd, the praise of the media, the criticism of the media.

And stress has, beyond doubt, wrecked many a promising footballer’s career.

However, we should also recognised that there are many different types of stress, as shown by the other side of stress as in 2018 the Dream Team web site ran the story: “7 professional footballers who really don’t like football”

Their seven chosen examples included Carlos Tevez (who much preferred golf), Sylvain Disin (who in a quiz revealed he had no idea of what was going on in the football world around him), and one from our past, David Bentley.

Bentley you may recall did an interview with the Mirror: in which he is quoted as saying, “I remember walking my dog, thinking ‘This ain’t for me.  I just got tired of all the bull***t that goes with it, people wanting you to sell yourself as something you’re not.”

Bentley retired from football in 2014 at the age of 29 and went on to run a restaurant in Marbella, Spain, where he and his family had moved to, while investing in beach clubs plus a second restaurant in London along with other players.

But a huge part of the problem is the way both the media and/or a club’s own fans will attack players.  And indeed sometimes we might agree that the player deserves to be stressed out because of his own actions – and here we might particularly think of Ryan Shawcross.

On this site Walter analysed the notorious Shawcross tackle on Ramsey which nearly ended Ramsey’s career and pointed out the relevant section in the laws of the game which talks about “Using excessive force” – it means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.

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Shawcross seemed to revel in the criticism which was thrown at him for his display against Ramsey and for Stoke City fans he became a hero.  He has now played over 370 games for Stoke City, and immediately after his tackle on Ramsey he was selected for the England squad.  He had nearly crippled a man and felt no stress, and seemingly no resource.

We may also think of Dan Smith, the man who wrecked Diaby’s really promising career.   Although Diaby stayed at Arsenal until 10 June 2015, his subsequent career which had been expected to be brilliant, came to a sad end after just 124 appearances for the club.  He then signed for Marseille but injury problems continued and on 25 February 2019, Diaby announced that he was retiring from football, aged 32.  He trained to be an accountant.

Smith continued his football career playing for Sunderland (3 games), Huddersfield (8 games), Aberdeen (9 games). St Johnstone (3 games) before moving into non-league and then Australian football.  That tiny number of games and his wandering showed that he suffered for his action against Diaby.  The stress got to him.

As we can see if we ask how does stress affect sports performance – with Smith he was clearly affected negatively, while Ramsey recovered from the assault upon him.  Tevez never felt stressed about football, he just didn’t enjoy it much, but Bentley really did get worked up about it, and finally quit.

How does stress affect sports performance?  In a multiplicity of ways.  Which is why if, for example, you are considering betting on a player or on a match, you need to take his or her mental state into account as much as anything else when you are involved in live betting.

Pundits don’t talk much about the mental well-being of players beyond their regular talk about the need to “man up” but really, there is a lot to be considered.

1 comment to How does stress affect sports performance?

  • Azinoz

    Re Dan Smith how does his “tiny number of games and his wandering” show that “ the stress got to him”. Perhaps he just wasn’t good enough.