The Influence that Arousal, Stress, and Anxiety Can Have on Sport Performance

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5 pages /

2122 words

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2122 words

Downloads: 55

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Discussion
  3. Tables and Figures
  4. References


The purpose of this paper is to discuss the influence that arousal, stress, and anxiety can have on sports performance. Firstly, the paper will define arousal, stress, and anxiety. Secondly, the paper will discuss the Inverted U Hypothesis and the arousal levels of soccer players during a soccer game. Thirdly, the paper will discuss two different types of stress and how situational stress can influence the sports performance of soccer players. Fourthly, the paper will look at two different types of anxiety and how soccer players perform with different levels of anxiety. Fifthly, the paper will look at the benefits of exercising and how exercising improves the stress and anxiety of an individual.

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Firstly, arousal can be defined as how alert, eager, or driven an individual may be in a particular situation and it is also a combination of physiological and psychological components. Stress can be defined as a certain amount of pressure that an individual may experience when they feel they cannot cope and this is often a negative experience. Anxiety can be defined as an emotional state that is often negative and is usually related to the emotions of being nervous, worried, and/or apprehension.

Secondly, arousal levels can play a positive or negative role in an individual’s sports performance. If an individual’s arousal levels are too high or are too low, it can negatively affect their performance during physical activity. The Inverted U Hypothesis was created by Yerkes and Dodson in 1908. The Inverted U Hypothesis was created to display the association between an individual’s level of arousal and their performance. There are three levels of arousal that is part of the Inverted U Hypothesis. The three different levels of arousal include low arousal, optimal arousal, and high arousal. As shown in Figure1, the Inverted U Hypothesis indicates that an athlete’s performance peaks when the athlete’s arousal levels are sitting in between low arousal and high arousal levels.

When an athlete reaches their peak performance, according to the Inverted U Hypothesis, it is known as an athlete having an optimal level of arousal and if the arousal level alters to either side of the optimal level of arousal, the athlete’s performance will start to decline. For example, if the Inverted U Hypothesis focused on the arousal levels of soccer players, the arousal levels would differ for each player depending on which position they played on the field. Refer to Figure 2 for the player positions during a soccer game.

According to TOGSoccer, if a player were to play a defending position during a game, such as a center back position, the player would have to maintain a steady optimal arousal level so that the player can play at their peak performance. If the arousal levels are too high for a player in a defending position, the individual could begin to make mistakes or run out of position and if the arousal levels are too low, they may not be as alert and have a slower reaction time.

However, if a player were to play a winger position during a game, they would have to alter their arousal levels with the play of the game. To further explain the need for a player in a winger position to alter their arousal levels to play at their peak performance, the player’s arousal levels would have to be high when the ball comes into play, so the player can use their explosive power and speed. If the player did not alter their arousal levels in the winger position when the ball is out of play, it could lead to muscle tension or cramping, performing the skill too early or pre-empting the game of play which can further lead to mistakes being made. It is quite clear that the arousal levels of soccer players do influence their sports performance during a soccer game. However, the arousal level that is needed can vary depending on what position the player is playing in the soccer game.

Thirdly, there are two different types of stress which are known as acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress can be defined as a pressure that exists only for a brief period of time and chronic stress can be defined as a pressure that is continuous and most likely been built up over a period of time. If an athlete believes that they are too stressed it can become difficult for them to perform at their maximum capacity, can have a negative effect on their motivation, and can also take away the enjoyment of the sport. An athlete can feel stress in a sporting environment from having too much pressure put on them by their family, peers, and/or coach or perhaps if the athlete has no more enjoyment in participating in the sport, therefore, leading to the athlete's low levels of motivation.

The current author believes that an athlete can have a certain set of standards that they are required to meet that has been placed on them by their family or coach and this can take the enjoyment out of the sport as they are no longer participating in the sport for themselves or the enjoyment. There is a type of stress known as situational stress and an example of this would be event importance. The stress or pressure of a particular event is acute stress as it only lasts for a brief period of time, however it could include, experiencing stress during the lead-up to the event and/or throughout the event.

Situational stress will definitely influence how an athlete performs in different sports. For example, there is an event during a soccer game known as a penalty shootout, this is when it is one on one between the goalkeeper and an opposition player. The aim of the opposition player is to try and get the ball in the back of the net from the penalty spot and the goalkeeper is to stop the ball from going in the goal.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure or stress that is being placed on both players to perform as this could result in winning or losing a match. For this example, the added stress creates a negative emotional state for an individual such as stress or anxiety. The state of stress and/or anxiety develops as the importance of each kick in the penalty shootout increases and mistakes are more likely to be made. This theory was supported by research that was conducted in 2000 that demonstrated that an event with high importance often leads to stress and anxiety.

Figure 3, the figure displays that the likelihood of successfully getting a goal in during a shootout decreased as the kick number increased, particularly for kick number six to nine. Situational stress is a major factor for individuals participating in soccer, as well as, the added stress that an individual can receive from family, peers, and/or a coach to perform at a high-performance level. Stress does influence the sports performance of an individual and the most common stress influencing sports performance is acute stress.

Fourthly, there are two different types of anxiety that are known as state anxiety and trait anxiety. State anxiety refers to the temporary changes of mood or emotions of an individual and trait anxiety refers to experiencing negative emotions in different situations including fear and worry and it is part of the personality. Using the previous example of a penalty shootout in soccer, anxiety definitely influences the sports performance of a soccer player in a negative manner.

The researchers, Horikawa & Yagi, conducted an experiment in penalty shootouts in soccer. The results of this experiment have shown that there is a difference between a player with high trait anxiety compared to a player with low trait anxiety in penalty shootouts. As shown in Table 1, a player with high trait anxiety also displayed a higher state of anxiety compared to a player with low trait anxiety when the number of successful goals decreased. The researchers found that the state anxiety of a player was most likely to be influenced by the combination of trait anxiety and the situational stress that is caused during a penalty shootout in soccer.

The researchers also found that an individual with higher trait anxiety and state anxiety influenced the goal performance in penalty shootouts in a negative manner which is shown in Table 1. In Table 1, the players with low trait and state anxiety got an average of 6.25 successful goals during a penalty shootout whereas the players with high trait and state anxiety got an average of 4.13 successful goals in a penalty shootout. It is quite clear that a player with a higher level of anxiety will not perform as well or perform at the same level as a player with lower anxiety. Furthermore, trait anxiety or state anxiety will negatively influence the sports performance of a soccer player during soccer, particularly in highly stressful situations such as penalty shootouts.

Fifthly, it is quite clear that arousal, stress, and anxiety all have an influence on the sports performance of soccer players in a negative way. However, can exercising individually or participating in a team sport improves the stress or anxiety levels of an individual? Exercise releases endorphins which is a neurotransmitter that makes an individual feel good after they have participated in physical activity or exercised. There can be many benefits of exercise with anxiety and stress that can include relief of tension, improving physical and mental energy, improving sleep, and the release of endorphins.

A clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School has stated that he has witnessed with his patients who participate in physical activity, that exercising has had a positive effect with their anxiety. According to Ratey, the type of exercise does not matter, the physical activity can range from an outdoor walk, bike ride or attending classes such as gym or dancing classes, and that the more exercise the better it is for an individual with anxiety. The current author also agrees with Ratey and believes that exercising in either an individual capacity and/or in a team sport can positively improve mental health including, stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercising is quite important for mental health and can positively improve stress and/or anxiety for an individual.

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To conclude this paper, for a soccer player to perform at their peak performance, arousal levels are influenced by the position that is being played during the soccer game. Stress can influence the sport performance in soccer, particularly situational stress which would induce acute stress. The two different types of anxiety, state anxiety, and trait anxiety were discussed, and how they both influence the sports performance of an individual in soccer during a high-pressure situation. The benefits of exercising or participating in physical activity was discussed as well as how it improves stress and anxiety.

Tables and Figures

  1. Figure 1. From “Arousal, Stress and Anxiety” by R. S. Weinberg and D. Gould, 2018, Foundation of Sport and Exercise Psychology. CC Robert S. Weinberg and Daniel Gould.
  2. Figure 2. From Soccer Positions Explained: Names, Numbers and What They Do, Bundesliga, 2019, ( Copyright n.d. by DFL Deutsche Fussball Liga.
  3. Figure 3. From “Kicks from the penalty mark in soccer: The roles of stress, skill and fatigue for kick outcomes” by E. Hartman, C. Visscher, and K. A. P. M. Lemmink, 2007, Journal of Sports Science, 25(2), p. 125 ( Copyright 2007 by Hartman, Visscher & Lemmink.
  4. Table 1. From “The relationships among trait anxiety, state anxiety and the goal performance of penalty shoot-out by university soccer players” by M. Horikawa and A. Yagi, 2012, PLoS ONE, 7(4), p. 3 (10.1371/journal.pone.0035727). Copyright 2012 by Horikawa & Yagi.


  1. Anzilotti, A. W. (2019). Dealing with Stress in Sports. Retrieved from
  2. Australian Psychological Association. (2020). Stress. Retrieved from
  3. Bundesliga. (2019) Soccer positions explained: names, numbers and what they do. Retrieved from
  4. Gellman, M. D., & Turner, J. R. (2013). Encyclopedia of Behavioural Medicine (2013 ed.). Springer, New York, NY.
  5. Hartman, E., Visscher, C., & Lemmink, K. A. P. M. (2007). Kicks from the penalty mark in soccer: The roles of stress, skill and fatigue for kick outcomes. Journal of Sports Science, 25(2), 121-129. doi:
  6. Horikawa, M., & Yagi, A. (2012). The relationships among trait anxiety, state anxiety and the goal performance of penalty shoot-out by university soccer players. PLoS ONE, 7(4), 1-5. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035727
  7. Madwell, R. (2016). Exercise as Stress Relief. Retrieved from
  8. Mind Tools. (n.d.). The inverted U theory. Retrieved from
  9. Ratey, J. J. (2019). Can exercise help treat anxiety? Retrieved from
  10. Robinson, L., Segal, J., & Smith, M. (2019). The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from
  11. TOGSoccer. (2015). Applying the Inverted U-theory to Soccer. Retrieved from
  12. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2018). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (7th ed.). United States.: Human Kinetics Publishers USA
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