Usually we only think of bad things when we think of stress — for athletes this might include injuries, slumps, or being cut from a team. Interestingly, there is a second type of stress psychologists have identified known as eustress, or “good” stress. Planning for a wedding, earning a job promotion, and even moving to a bigger house are all examples of events that are usually good — yet still cause us to experience stress.
Often coaches, parents, and even athletes themselves don’t understand the stress associated with good events quite as easily as they do negative events. For example, it’s very understandable to see an athlete struggle with an injury, but doesn’t make as much sense to see an athlete stress out over being named a captain of the team. Ironically, in both of these examples the athlete is prompted to deal with stress, even though the situations are very different on the surface. Athletes must deal with a number of sport psychology variables when it comes to stress, including life changes, remaining focused, and dealing with new expectations and uncertainties.
Identifying athletes dealing with eustress, or good stress, can be a lot more difficult than pointing out athletes dealing with negative stress (also known as distress). It is for this reason that I have had countless conversations over the years with coaches and parents who can’t figure out what is going on with an otherwise healthy athlete who seems to be struggling for reasons unknown. After all, most people assume that if they came into good fortune everything would be great, right?
Additional examples of events that are generally good, yet still cause athletes stress include:
- Playing on a good team and living up to expectations
- Coming into a starting position for the first time
- Earning athletic awards and having to speak to the media
- Preparing for the transition to college sports
- Being a team captain
While it may not make a lot of sense at first glance, both bad and good stress can be equally difficult to deal with for athletes. In fact, the direction of the stress (positive or negative) may be less of a concern than the intensity (meaning how taxing the event is, regardless of whether it is good or bad).
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