A major issue that athletes of all levels face is the
task of dealing with pressure.  Pressure
can arise from several different scenarios and can often affect athletes in a
negative manner or cause an athlete to “choke”. 
As someone who has competed in sports I have experienced pressure first
hand and have also seen how pressure can affect the performance of athletes.  Researchers have conducted numerous studies
to determine how pressure can affect athletic performance and to determine how
performance stressors might be more easily managed.  If researchers can identify how stressors
affect athletic performance, then they may also be able to develop strategies
which would help coaches and athletes learn how to overcome pressure which
might have an affect performance.  Based
on information gathered from several other studies, Ngo, Richards, and Kondric developed
their own study to determine if and how pressure can affect serve kinematics in
table tennis.  They developed a study
that would test two distinct types of anxiety: state cognitive anxiety and
state somatic anxiety.  State cognitive
anxiety is pressure that is mental, can result in negative thoughts, and can
contribute to lack of self-confidence. 
State somatic anxiety is the physiological aspect of anxiety and
includes elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate.  The purpose of the study is to investigate
the effects of anxiety on the movement kinematics of table tennis serve to
better understand the relationship between anxiety and performance.

Methods

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            This
study was conducted using a sample of nine male university level table tennis
players with a mean age of 23.4.  Each of
the participants had a minimum of 2 years playing and were all currently
playing competitive table tennis at the time the study was conducted.  Each of the 9 participants were randomly
assigned to either a low anxiety condition (LAC) or a high anxiety condition
(HAC) and prior to testing, each of the participants were asked to choose a
serve which they felt comfortable enough with to repeat throughout the
experiment.  Participants in the LAC were
then instructed to play five identical serves unopposed while those in the HAC
faced a nationally ranked player (who was known to the participants) and were
instructed to serve five times and play the point against their opponent.  The nationally ranked players were instructed
to wear a sponsored national table tennis uniform while facing off against the
participants.    Participants were also given the Mental
Readiness Form-Likert which was implemented to measure cognitive anxiety,
somatic anxiety, and self confidence. 
Heart rate was monitored using a Polar Team 2 system which consists of a
heart rate monitor placed around each participants torso and heart rate samples
were recorded over a 20 second period from the first recording.  Nine infrared cameras combined with QUALISYS
motion capture software was used to measure the bat 3D kinematics.  Each participant could use their own bat and
each bat had three 12 mm reflective markers attached to the edge of the bat
which allowed the bat movement to be captured by the cameras.  Physiological effects were tested using a
one-tailed paired T-test and self-reported anxiety scores were measured using a
2×2 repeated measures ANOVA.  Bat face
angles were measured in 3 axes and were also tested using a 3×2 repeated
measure ANOVA.

Results

            The
self-confidence assessment was struck from the study because the researchers
determined that the self-assessment did not focus on the effects of state
anxiety on kinematic behavior.  The
results revealed significant main effects for test conditions (F (1.8) =
13.913, p= 0.006, y= 0.8), indicating that anxiety
manipulation was successful and there was a significant main effect for the
anxiety type as well (F (1.8) = 6.897, p=
0.030, y = 0.7).  The mean heart rate in beats per minute was
significantly higher in the HAC (M=132.22±45.66 bpm) compared to the LAC
(M=106.78±38.10 bpm).  An increased heart
rate in the HAC signifies that anxiety manipulation was successful on a physiological
basis.

Conclusion

            Cognitive
and somatic anxiety was significantly higher in the HAC group than the LAC
group; however, both anxieties were increased regardless of what group they
were in.  Participants experienced a
greater effect of somatic anxiety, which would peak at the onset of a
competition, whereas cognitive anxiety is more likely to be experienced during
the performance.  It was predicted that
the heart rate of the participants would increase, and it did and was
especially higher in the HAC group, which the researchers had expected.  The researchers hypothesized that bat angles
would be affected between LAC and HAC however ball impact did not change
between the two conditions.  The serves
at all three axes followed a similar pattern and the face angles of the bat
were consistent throughout the service motions.

Critique

           One of the critiques that I had for this study is that
the sample size was far too small.  A
larger sample size would offer more data which could in fact lead to
significant findings that simply cannot be found with such a small sample size.
I also believe that the testing should have included an audience which would
better simulate a real-life competition. With an audience present, I believe
that the HAC would have been even more intense which in turn could have led to
significant changes in bat and movement kinematics. This study could be
repeated with a larger sample number and could also include players of all
skill level. I believe that the researchers limited themselves quite a bit in
expecting the participants to meet so much criteria.

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