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Stress, Coping, & Performance

Stress, Coping, & Performance
Happy regular Sunday, and a special happy post-🦃 Sunday to my American friends.

Stress is a major aspect in every sport. Staying cool-headed may be the make or break for players and teams alike. Today, we’ll take a first look at stress professional players experience and coping strategies they use in order to keep calm.

🎙️ Interviewing the Pros

In the qualitative study (Leis et al., 2021), 12 players were interviewed. The players were "professional" League of Legends players between 19 and 28. I put "professional" in quotation marks because it’s unclear if they actually play professionally (e.g., in a team and compete in tournaments) or not. However, they were ranked challenger, grandmaster, and master, they had 6 to 11 years of experience playing LoL, and spent 28 to 91 hours playing per week.

😓 What is causing Players Stress?

The authors found five main areas that caused their professional players stress when competing. Those areas were:

  • Performance expectations, such as the goal of winning, performing on a high level, or playing without mistakes.
  • Internal evaluation. This is the perception of their performance, playing against stronger opponents, or the outcome of the competition.
  • Team issues subsume stressors such as a lack of confidence in teammates, criticism within the team, or experiencing suboptimal plays from teammates.
  • Audience and social media, especially offline audiences and post-game interviews, as well as attention through social media were named stressors.
  • Environmental Constraints e.g., jetlag, unprofessional environment, or competitive setting.

At this point, it is worth noting that the players may be indeed professional players to some degree, as they have experience with playing in front of an audience, doing interviews, and flying to other countries in order to compete.
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🧘 How do Pros cope with Stress?

In order to cope with stress, players employ different kinds of strategies. Leis and colleagues found the following six themes:

  • Social network: communication, especially with teammates, coaches, family, or friends. Other aspects mentioned were a team-friendly environment, spending time with friends, and support from teammates.
  • Attention regulation. This includes adjusting the focus on the game, themselves, or the following game.
  • Self-regulation e.g., sleep, meditation, self-talk, cold showers, or partying. Interestingly, one player mentioned visualizing a game prior to competition. This is a type of imaginary training, where you go through movements (or games in this case) and visualize in your head what to do. There are studies in sports science showing that this is an effective method of training, too.
  • Increasing effort. One player said that when in the game for 3-5 minutes, he is completely immersed in the game, not noticing the pressure he’s under anymore. Other strategies used are watching good players, analyzing games, or evaluating losses.
  • Consumption strategies, this includes using drinks (e.g., coffee), nutrition (like eating fruits), and various kinds of substances (smoking or drinking alcohol) to regulate their stress level.
  • Dissociation, refering to players avoiding pressure by distancing themselves from the situation. They try not to think about mistakes, or stop talking to teammates.

🕹️ For us Casual Gamer...

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Though most of us, the recreational gamers, are not experiencing a whole lot of the stressors mentioned, some of them we do. Similar to regular sports, stressors will usually dampen our performance or our ability to perform.

When we hit the “Play” button, performance expectations, internal evaluations, team issues, and to some degree environmental constraints can affect our performance too. When you want to rank up on the ladder, it’s important to be aware of those stressors and find ways to cope with them.
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