Competitive anxiety

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Competitive anxiety pertains to the emotions, thoughts and physiological symptoms experienced by individuals during competitions. Although the term could refer to any competitive activity, the common usage is in sports because of the intensity of the competitive atmosphere during sports competitions. Before and during competitions, expectations of the outcomes of conducting sports activity would race through the minds of competitors and physiological symptoms such as rapid heartbeats and queasy feelings in the stomach also occurs. Competitive anxiety has two components.

One is the cognitive element encompassing concerns, negative expectations, failure to concentrate, and easy distraction. When uncontrolled, this could lead to the failure to meet personal and other peoples’ expectations. The other is the somatic element covering the physical or physiological symptoms such as erratic heartbeat, difficulty in breathing, tensing of muscles, and queasiness. (Marchant, Morris & Anderson, 1998) The extent of control exercised over competitive anxiety determines whether this results in a positive or negative outcome for competitors.

The effective control of anxiety follows the measurement of anxiety to understand its dynamics. The sport competition anxiety test (SCAT) is a way of measuring competition anxiety. How the SCAT Works The SCAT is measure of the likelihood of an athlete to feel anxious during sports competitions. The results of the measures determine the tendency to experience competitive anxiety based on the scores. The test considers competitive trait anxiety of individual athletes by determining individual tendencies towards competitive anxiety.

As such, the results would determine the athletes who need to control competitive anxiety, with control referring to the recognition of the competitive anxiety and utilization of this to motivate better outcomes. The differences in tendencies towards competitive anxiety require variances in control strategies. The SCAT finds basis on the competitive anxiety causal model (Martens, Vealey & Burton, 1990) that identifies three factors determining or explaining the competitive anxiety of individuals. The first causal factor is the perception towards uncertainty of the outcome of the competition.

Perception of uncertainty refers to the lack of inability to foretell future outcomes. The anxiety develops especially when lack of predictive control occurs together with expectations the unpleasant experience of failure, rejection, or punishment. The second causal factor is perception towards the importance of competitive outcome. Perception of importance of the outcome refers to the expected value experienced from a positive result. The perception of importance is a combination of the internal and external consequences of the outcome.

Internal consequences could include enhanced self-confidence, sense of fulfillment, and competence while External consequences could encompass praise and recognition from other people, particularly those with strong expectations over positive results. The third causal factor is competitive trait anxiety (A-trait) or the perception of threat during competitions that determine the competitive anxiety reactions. The existence of threat depends on the co-occurrence of the perception of uncertainty and importance. The greater expectations of uncertainty and importance create stronger threat that leads to more intense anxiety reactions.

The A-trait also influence in reverse, the perceptions of uncertainty and importance. The SCAT is a measure using questions reflecting the three causal factors. The test composed of around ten questions, albeit, this has been expanded, that ask respondents about their feelings when engaging in competitions. Each of the questions is answerable using a three-point scale as answer choices. Commonly the three choice answers are often, sometimes and hardly ever or rarely. Each of these answer choices correspond to a point from 1 to 3, with 1 usually pertaining to hardly ever or rarely, 2 to sometimes, and 3 to often.

The scores for the answers to the ten questions when summed lead to a total ranging from 10 to 30. Based on this assignment of points, a lower total score means lesser degree of competitive anxiety while a higher total score indicates greater levels of competitive anxiety. (Marchant, Morris & Anderson, 1998) While all individuals need to address and control competitive anxiety, the necessity of controlling competitive anxiety is stronger for individuals with higher scores because of the greater impact of competitive anxiety to the outcomes of the competition.

Application of SCAT to Sports and Exercise The SCAT has found diverse application in various areas of study on sports and exercise. These studies used SCAT as a measure singly or together with other measures. One study assessed the competitive orientation between athletes and non-athletes engaging in sports activities to determine any differences in the anxiety level of these two groups. The test scores showed that the level of competitiveness as well as orientation to win is much higher in athletes relative to non-athletes engaging in similar sports activities or competition.

This indicates the higher degree of competitiveness anxiety of athletes when compared to non-athletes. Moreover, the test scores were also able to distinguish international and university athletes, with international athletes experiencing a higher degree of competitive anxiety. (Kang et al. , 1990) The variables measured by SCAT were able to distinguish not only the individuals but also the groups more susceptible to higher levels of competitive anxiety when used as a group measure. Another study used SCAT to compare differences in trait anxiety during practice and competition for recreational and semi-professional bowlers.

Results showed differences between the competitive anxiety of recreational and semi-professional bowlers, with higher levels for semi-professional bowlers. However, on an individual level there are similar trends. Cognitive intensity has an inverse u-shaped relationship with performance, which means that very high and very low levels of cognitive intensity negatively affects performance. Those with repressive coping mechanisms expressed stronger relationship between anxiety and performance. Jerome & Williams, 2000)

The use of the SCAT was able to determine individuals susceptible to competitive anxiety based on anxiety traits and at the same time distinguish common anxiety traits of particular sports groups, which in the study are recreational and professional bowlers. Still another used the SCAT for another purpose, which is to determine differences in competitive anxiety based on consideration of physical traits. The study sought to determine the extent that individuals experience competitive anxiety over their physical traits.

The study considered a number of respondents belonging engaging in different sport such as basketball, hockey, tennis and swimming. Results showed that women engaged in the different sport have a greater tendency to experience competitive anxiety over their physical appearance. In comparing the different sports, even males engaged in sports that required physical appearance as part of the judging criteria such as diving and gymnastics experienced higher levels of competitive anxiety over their physical appearance. Martin & Mack, 1996) This shows the use of the SCAT not only to determine individual or group competitive anxiety but also to focus on specific sources of anxiety. Conclusion The various applications of the SCAT supports the determination and measurement of competitive anxiety that in turn points to individuals or groups that need to address competitive anxiety and ensure positive outcomes.

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