Adrenaline, anxiety impact athletic performance

Art by Kate Xia
Art by Kate Xia

From pre-race cross country anxiety to tensing one’s grip on golf clubs, athletes must constantly confront their nerves. 

Junior golfer Maxwell Zhang, said nerves and adrenaline often hurt his performance.

“It happened many times where my nerves just kind of overcame me, and my arms became rubber,” Zhang said. “Because of adrenaline, I could not strike the shot I wanted.” 

According to Zhang, external pressures can also influence an athlete’s nerves. Many times, when spectators, teammates and coaches watch a player, stress can accumulate and cause mistakes.  

However, Zhang said internal pressures can also affect performance.

“Nervousness has two kinds: adrenaline, knowing that you want and other people want you to do well, and also nervousness that you yourself are afraid of doing bad,” Zhang said. “If you are doing extremely badly and you notice it, you start to play worse and worse.”

But Zhang said he has made several mental alterations to help him handle stress during games. 

“If I play bad on this hole, someone else definitely played bad on another hole,” Zhang said. “(This mindset) kind of makes me feel better that I made a mistake.”

Cross country coach Michael Davison said one of his main roles as a coach is ensuring his players are in the right mindset to play.

“I try to take as much pressure off of them as possible,” Davidson said. “I remind them that they’re capable of doing anything they decide to put their minds to.” 

Head football coach David DeGeronimo said being nervous during sports is most often attributed to feeling unprepared. 

“I think the kids playing under pressure are the ones that don’t quite understand their assignment or know what to do,” DeGeronimo said. 

According to DeGeronimo, it is coaches’ responsibility to prepare players for high pressure environments.

 “We always try to create an environment in practice that will mirror the game,” DeGeronimo said.

Besides simulating the game environment, DeGeronimo said another important part of training is repetition. He said daily practices are one of the key ways of building up a player’s performance during games. 

  If student athletes do feel stress, physical education teacher Stacey Kofman said these nerves can impede the body’s biological functions. 

“One of the issues with adrenaline is it’s going to speed up your heart rate (and) your breathing,” Kofman said. 

According to Kofman, being aware of these changes can help combat them.

“You have to be able to calm your brain, calm your heart rate and block out all the distractions,” Kofman said.

Kofman said nerves can also have a positive effect, as adrenaline can help players score the winning point or run the final leg of a race. 

 While adrenaline can have benefits and detriments, junior running back Jeremiah Madrigal said it is vital for some sports, including football, and that he uses it to help improve his play and remain consistent throughout the season. 

“The adrenaline does help you because you cannot feel anything,” Madrigal said. “So as soon as you get the ball, you just keep running until you score.”

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