by Mick G. Mack, Ph.D.

The influence of stress on athletic performance is a legitimate concern for most coaches and athletes. Whether we realize it or not, our emotions affect every cell in our body (Tutko & Tosi, 1976). Negative emotional reactions are often caused by stress. One of the ways to deal with this phenomenon is to understand the mental and physical effects. Thus, the following quiz is designed to be an initial step in understanding and combating the harmful effects stress has on athletic performance.

All of the questions are to be answered either True or False

  • Under high levels of stress, athletes typically have a broad attention span. T or F
  • The clammy feeling we often get when stressed is caused by our body's natural defense against bleeding to death. T or F
  • Elite level performers have fewer nervous reactions to stress than do non-elite level performers. T or F
  • High levels of stress make it more difficult to think clearly. T or F
  • Getting sick to your stomach and throwing up when nervous is your body's way of telling you that you are over-stressed. T or F
  • Caffeine exaggerates the physical and mental effects of stress. T or F
  • The body's stress response, which is commonly referred to as the fight or flight response, allows us to do superhuman feats. T or F
  • The only time stress is good is when there is no stress. T or F
  • Sighing as you exhale is more relaxing than not sighing. T or F
  • Under stress, athletes often revert back to their most well learned behaviors. T or F

Answer Key

  • False. Under high levels of stress athletes tend to have a narrow attention span, often referred to as tunnel vision. Attention may also focus on the athlete's internal thought process which can lead to "choking" under pressure.
  • True. One of the physical responses of the body to stress is to divert blood away from the small vessels near the skin. This provides a defense against bleeding to death from wounds, but gives the skin a cold, clammy feeling.
  • False. Elite level performers have just as many nervous reactions to stress as any other type of performer. However, elite athletes often interpret these reactions as being more positive and beneficial than do other athletes.
  • True. Clear thinking is more difficult in pressure situations. This is why coaches and athletes must constantly practice what they are going to do and how they are going to respond in pressured-packed situations.
  • False. So that more blood is available to the large muscles of the body in preparation for strenuous physical activity such as fighting or running away, the digestive system shuts down. During this shut down, the acid in your stomach makes you feel nauseated which sometimes results in throwing up. This is a normal reaction to stress.
  • True. Caffeine tends to exaggerate the physical and mental effects of stress. Knowing this, coaches and athletes should avoid caffeine products before entering potentially stressful situations.
  • True. Under stress, the body produces adrenalin which provides a powerful, quick burst of energy sometimes resulting in superhuman feats.
  • False. There are a number of stresses which are good. For example, being elevated to the starting team brings additional stress which most athletes would enjoy. Another example of positive stress is physical and mental training. All athletes are under stress when, during training, they push themselves to the edge so that their body will adapt to the demand and get stronger.
  • True. For some reason letting out an audible sigh as you exhale is very relaxing. There are a number of additional relaxation techniques which involve breathing exercises.
  • True. In stressful situations athletes often revert back to behaviors they are familiar and comfortable with. This is one of the reasons why athletes should try to learn and perfect new skills and techniques in the off-season.

In conclusion, your reaction to stress will affect every cell in your body. Regardless if the reasons are real or imaginary, your reactions are similar. We each have a biological alarm clock that goes off automatically, whether we want it to or not. This reaction is valuable if you are about to be hit by a car but it has disadvantages if you are trying to settle down and concentrate on your game. By knowing what the reactions are, athletes can learn to interpret these responses as being normal and perhaps even beneficial to their performance.


Tutko, T., & Tosi, U. (1976). Sports psyching: Playing your best game all of the time. New York: Putnam Publishing.


Mick G. Mack, Ph.D. , is an assistant professor of sport psychology in the School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Services at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa.


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