What Are the Causes of Stress in Sports?

By Steve Silverman

Playing sports on the professional level is the dream of many in their formative years. That dream gets snuffed out by reality for 99 percent of those aspiring to a career in sports. Competition is tough, and most lack the athletic ability to get on the field with the best of the best. Pressure is a constant factor in professional sports, as well as in many high levels of amateur sports, and that pressure leads to stress.

Competitive stress

A professional baseball hitter may have gotten two hits the night before and is feeling good about his game. But when he sees that the next day's starting pitcher has gotten him out the last 15 times he was up to bat, he realizes he has no clue what to do against him. Instead of going through his normal routine before the game, the hitter was up all night trying to figure out what to do. He goes up to the plate the next day feeling intense pressure because he doesn't want to embarrass himself and he's gotten little or no sleep.

Stress from bosses

If you are a professional football player or even a great college player, you may be facing an important game. Perhaps your team is playing for first place in the league or conference. You are the quarterback, and you have to play a great game in order for your team to have a chance to win. Before the game, the coach calls you into his office and tells you he needs three TD passes and an outstanding game. Whether or not he uses the words, you know management thinks the outcome of the game is on your shoulders.

Outside influences

You are playing professional basketball. You have played all your life, and you have a dream career. But at home, you have a wife and two babies. The children are sick, and your wife is left to take care of of them while you are on the road. Everywhere you go, people tell you how great you are, but your wife is telling you how hard her life is because you are always away. Instead of thinking about the next shot or pass, you are concerned about family problems, and that is causing you stress on the court. Your concentration level is diminished, and you are not performing at your best.

Fans' expectations

Sometimes the fans care more about the team than the athletes who make up the team. They may have been rooting for their team for 20 years, and they want that elusive championship more than anything else. The athlete wants that championship as well but knows that if it doesn't happen, there will be another chance next year. The most important thing is to keep your career going, but fans are demanding superhuman performances that may be out of an athlete's control to deliver.

Big-game stress

There may come a point in an athlete's career when she is playing for a championship or a title. The athlete may have dreamed of this opportunity for years, since her childhood. When the game or tournament is finally at hand, the athlete can feel incredible stress. "This is when I'm going to find out if I really measure up," she tells herself. Some will rise to the occasion while others will fall short. Stress causes some athletes to fail under these circumstances.

About the Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.

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