How can you find out if players are suffering from anxiety? | YouCoach Skip to main content

How can you find out if players are suffering from anxiety?

How can you find out if players are suffering from anxiety?

What are the indicators to realize if players are suffering from anxiety? Our expert psychotherapist and sports therapist gives us some advices.

Anxiety is an activation state natural and physiological, which during evolution has been selected for our survival in dangerous situations. For this reason anxiety isn’t something to fear. It allows us attacking or escaping reactions to face feared situations. In this article will be displayed the indicators to find out if players are anxious.

Anxiety, as an activation state to allow rapid reactions, needs physiological and automatic responses ruled by the autonomic nervous system, composed of the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic one. The first one brings to activation of efficient reactions in dangerous situations, the second one instead, re-introduces a balanced state. These two systems act in specific parts of our body.


What are the signals we have to observe in our players to identify an activation state?

Let’s film a player who has to shoot a penalty kick during the last 3 minutes of extra time in a match with the result at 2-2.

We suppose he’s in an anxious state so his sympathetic system will cause an increase in heartbeat and blood pressure to increase the oxygen delivery to his muscles. In fact his muscles should be more stretched to allow a reactive response. So look at the posture of his body, arms and legs. Does he seem to be ready to spring? Sometimes we obtain the opposite effect because of the excessive anxiety that leads to having blocked and feeble legs, causing to being slow in reacting. It also happens, when someone is anxious, that he can’t stop moving, walking and bouncing nervously. Someone use stereotypical and ritualistic movements. Also the mouth must be observed. Are his teeth gritted and his mandibular muscles strained? Or is his mouth more opened to store more air? In fact observing his chest, you could be able to see rapid and less deep breathing movements, because breathing frequency increases to respond to a larger oxygen request. Sometimes we notice rapid breathes or deep breathes. Observing the mouth you can also see if is “dry” and if your player drinks often even little sips of water or energy drink. Activation of sympathetic system in fact, brings about the “dried mouth” effect. 

This kind of activation state makes the sympathetic system block the gastrointestinal functions because they’re unnecessary, facilitating the stay of foods and stomach acid in the stomach, and faeces in the intestine. So observe if your athlete goes often to the bathroom or if he’s nauseous or needs to vomit.

Also the body temperature increases, increasing sweat too in order to have good thermoregulation. Observe if your player is sweating when he’s stationary, when the climate does not require it. His palms can be a good predictor and also the colour of his skin gives useful information. Even if stationary, does he have red or unusual patches on his face and neck?

When we are induced by anxiety not only is our body activates itself to allow a physical reaction, but also our thinking accelerates because it has to immediately find a solution to avoid risks and become more careful with dangerous signals.

It is useful to make better decisions faster. However, if activation is extreme, a person could feel confused and have difficulty in concentrating. Moreover, the ability to judge/provide solutions may not always be accurate when it is based on temporary, almost instinctive intuition which sometimes lead to decisions that have disadvantageous outcomes. Therefore you have to observe your footballer's decision making during the match. Sometimes in fact, he doesn’t make the right pass, as if he doesn’t know the game system, or doesn’t see his teammates. Attention, can focus in a restrictive way on the target (the striker only focuses on goal and goalkeeper) or it can be oriented to find solutions (the striker focuses on the positioning of his teammates to consider a possible pass to perform). 
So learning to observe your players can reveal some of their activation state. Put into words what we’re feeling about the anxiety level, is a very useful thing, to say “ you’re looking a little tense” for example, getting in this way a possible feedback. This kind of sharing between coach and player, can reduce anxiety because the player can feel he is being understood.



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