Perception is Reality (Especially when it comes to Stress and Sport…)

The game is in crunch-time. Each second seemingly ticks off faster than the one before. Just like that the buzzer sounds and it is all over. Two minutes eroded away in two seconds. Not even enough time to blink. The pressure and stress of the moment was too much, all because of how a player perceived his or her stress.

For most college basketball players, how they deal with pressure and the late game scenarios might be the hardest concept for coaches to grasp because it is intangible and unique to each athlete. People deal with issues in their own way. Therefore, when dealing with collegiate student-athletes, like I do everyday, this issue is only exacerbated as many 18-22 year olds do not comprehend how to manage stress very well.

And yet, Kelly McGonigal’s (2013) TED Talk offered me new perspective on how it might be possible for coaches to help their student-athletes deal with how they think about stress.

The theme of McGonigal’s talk can be encapsulated in one quote she uses: “when you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.” 

How amazing is that? Just by thinking and perceiving stress in a different light, a person can change their body’s chemical response too.

Therefore, coaches should not be trying to rid stress and stressors completely. Instead, programs should be teaching a new way of thinking when it comes to stress: how a faster heartbeat, more profuse breathing and butterflies in the stomach can actually be useful to the athlete, if those bodily reactions are perceived as positive versus unfavorable.

Thanks to McGonigal, I no longer perceive stress as a negative, like this phenomenon  has historically been portrayed. Rather, stress can be quite beneficial. And yet, it is up to coaches to alter how their players think and establish a stronger positive perception to stress and how it can benefit performance.

Another link to Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk (2013):

Let me know what you think about athletes and stress down below in the comments. Are there any specific strategies you have used to help players manage their stress?



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