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Sport is a major word world over and there are so many disciplines that sportsmen can indulge in; whether it is golf, football, rugby, athletics or swimming there is always some aspect of psychology applied. The Olympic are a sporting experience for athletes that occur every four years in different venues. The games require that the athletes adjust to the mental demands of the competition within their sporting discipline (Budget, 1998). The mental challenges that the athletes experience require mental skills that the athletes must have in order to perform well in the events. However, most athletes and moreover the high profile ones usually have difficulties in various capacities and underperform during major events in Olympic games and other sporting events. Some of the reasons that make the athletes underperform are lack of enough concentration during the events, anxiety, lack of proper training and others. This essay takes a look at some of the reasons why athletes underperform in the major sporting events.


In sporting activities, the performance of the athletes is usually dependent on the optimal maintenance between training and recovery. Overtraining among the athletes is a major cause of underperformance. The chronic fatigue in athletes is an imbalance between training and competition versus recovery. This is caused by too much training and competition with little time for regeneration therefore the athletes are very likely to underperform in major sporting events because of overtraining. Though practice makes perfect overdoing it is a major cause of concern in view of the fact that it will cause exhaustion which means the athlete will not be ready for the real race. Every athlete should learn to detect the levels at which he is over training given that it will not only affect his or her career but also the health.

Short term overtraining

Overtraining is a condition of chronic fatigue and underperformance and is characterized by frequent infections and depression which results after hard and vigorous training or competition. The consequences of overtraining by athletes are reported to have affected more than eighty percent of athletes during their career. Short term overtraining which is also known as over-reaching is usually seen in peak performance in athletes. It is experienced after several days of intense training which is characterized by muscle fatigue by the athletes. During vigorous training of athletes, the symptoms of short-term which are evident include changes in the mood state of the athletes (Budget, 1998). Symptoms such as anger depression, fatigue and sometimes confusion may be seen among athletes. Other symptoms evident with short term training are increased heart rate, increased testerone levels, depleted muscle glycogen stores and increased creatine kinase levels. These symptoms are usually physiological responses of the athlete’s body and recovery usually occurs within two weeks. The over-reaching is a vital process for improved performance.

Short term training is however associated with insufficient metabolic recovery which normally results in a drop of ATP levels. In an overtraining period where there is presence in glycogen depletion, the result is usually an imbalance between ATP splitting and regeneration. Over-reaching is therefore related to insufficient metabolic recovery. The initial phase of overtraining is reversible with insufficient recovery time. This allows the replenishment of phosphate pool which is rich in energy and is essential for athletes.

Long term overtraining

In long term overtraining athletes suffer chronic state of insufficient recovery which is as a result of prolonged and intense exercise. Long term overtraining symptoms are characterized by premature fatigue, performance decline, decreased motivation and emotional instability. There are two types of long term overtraining namely sympathetic and parasympathetic forms. Sympathetic normally occurs in the initial stages of the training process while parasympathetic occurs in the later stages of the training.

  • Sympathetic form of overtraining is usually characterized by an increase in the sympathetic tone while the athlete undergoes the resting state. Some of the symptoms with this form of overtraining are restlessness and performance incompetence. It is observed in anaerobic events such as sprinting.
  • Parasympathetic form is characterized by parasympathetic tone in the resting state as well as in exercising. It is caused by fatigue and apathy among athletes.

In long-term overtraining, athletes usually complain of underperformance and increased infections, persistent high fatigue rating and depression. When ignored, these symptoms can cause chronic effects to the athletes; that is why every athlete should be very cautious with this fact (Budget, 1998).

Most athletes engage in more training instead of resting to counteract underperformance and the symptoms of overtraining. This only exaggerates the recovery deficit and athletes end up more frustrated. Examples of well known athletes who are affected by these conditions are Marion Jones of the United States of America. This athlete collapsed several times while sprinting the one hundred meters race in the 2000 Olympic competition. Several athletes have also pulled out of races especially the long distant races which are tasking to the athletes (Kellmann, 2002). The accumulation of glycogen in the athlete’s muscles cause muscles fatigue and results to discomfort of the athletes and hence low performance in the competition.

Difficulty in getting sleep, having nightmares and waking up unrefreshed are some of the common signs experienced by majority of athletes prior to the competition. This is a result overtraining syndrome and more often athletes lose concentration in their events and end up underperforming. Other symptoms in the long term overtraining include loss of appetite; anxiety and mental exhaustion, poor attitude to training and some are severe such as muscle soreness and joint pains.

Overtraining syndrome is usually a consequence of inappropriate intensive and long training sessions. The parasympathetic type of training is assumed to be a consequence of imbalance between long periods of training in sport activities and little time left for regeneration. This causes a lot of pressure to an athlete which usually causes underperformance. Glycogen depletion as a result of poor diet and dehydration reduces the ability to recover and respond to heavy training. Lack of control and power by the athletes, lead to stress and burnout; this is attributed to the exhaustion from overtraining and assumption of the symptoms of fatigue. A study that was conducted on several athletes by Coakely in his model revealed that there are two major categories of burn out feelings. They include physical symptoms and mental symptoms. Physical symptoms include injuries, illness or being physically asymptomatic while mental symptoms included lack lacking energy, having negative feelings, feelings of isolation, concentration problems and high and low moods. Other reasons for burnout include physical concerns such as sickness and being unsatisfied with performance, social interpersonal concerns, negative parental influence and psychological concerns (Budget, 1998). Some recommendations for dealing with burnout include socializing with friends and balancing sports with other activities such as studies and other outdoor activities for relaxation purposes

Intensive training with intervals of one to ten minutes of intensive exercise repeatedly is most likely to result to overtraining. Stress related complications usually set in after sudden increase in training and prolonged and monotonous training. When the state of fatigue becomes very severe recovery does not occur within two weeks and the athlete is usually under a lot of pressure and cannot perform well in athletic events. Burnout of athletes occurs when the structure of high performance sport does not allow the athlete to develop a normal identity.

The potential for high quality performance becomes limited and training increasingly becomes mentally demanding. The immune system of the athletes can become affected resulting in infections and consequently absence in training. This then results to an uncertainty as to whether the body can adapt to previous levels of performance after recovery. Quite often, the performance of athletes in the major events is compromised and they end up underperforming. Physiological stress is usually associated with staleness and burnout of athletes and this can be attributed to overtraining of the athletes.

In conclusion, some of these problems can be avoided by the athletes through moderately engaging in exercises in ways that will not put a lot of pressure to their bodies. Qualified instructors should be hired to ensure that they train the athletes well and prepare them physically and psychologically to engage in the athletic events. Most importantly, athletes should have sufficient rest after training sessions and should have a positive and relaxed mood before participating in any event. The athletes should be able to balance their sporting careers with other activities which will ensure that they have a balanced life and that they do not over indulge themselves in sports and training. They should also have regular health checkups which will ensure that are fit and do not have any physical complications. Diet is also another vital issue for the athletes and they should ensure that they take the recommended amounts required for athletes who are engaging in vigorous training. This not only applies to athletics but also other disciplines of sports world over. Every sportsman should be conscious with this since it greatly affects his performance.

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