Friday, January 3, 2014

Stressed Out: Daily Hassles Can Increase Injury Risk

Be they youth or adult, many soccer players feel the stress of everyday life. Life events and how well the player copes can create worry, anxiety and mental fatigue, all of which affect concentration and effort on the field. Previous research shows that stress from major life events can also raise the risk of injury. Stress and anxiety also comes from smaller, daily events or hassles. For example, a college player finding the time to study for mid-term exams, meet a class project due date and focus on an upcoming match may experience significant daily stress. On the other hand, small victories in the classroom can lift a player’s sprits. A group of Swedish researchers focused on how these smaller, daily stressors have on injury risk. They find that that daily hassles and daily uplifts can make an athlete more or less susceptible to injury.

The researchers surveyed more than 100 Swedish elite youth players (ages 15-19 years) over the course of one year. Each week, the players were asked to complete an inventory of daily hassles and uplifts. Items such as family issues, personal relationships and daily responsibilities were recorded. Players were also asked if they considered these situations to be hassles or uplifting. During the study period, the researchers also recorded injuries sustained by each of the players.

The results showed that the occurrence of injuries was tied to both the initial daily hassle level and the change in daily hassle over the course of the year. Players who showed high initial daily hassle at the start of the study with little change in hassle level were the most likely to suffer and injury. Those with greater uplifts throughout the season suffered the fewest injuries. When the level of hassle or uplift changed, the occurrence of injury also varied. Thus, the researchers concluded that players who experience daily hassles are at greater risk of injury whereas uplifting daily events can lower risk. Further, injury risk fluctuates as daily stressors change over the course of a season.

The researchers point to several reasons why daily hassles and uplifts affect injury risk. Previous research shows that hassle can increase psychological fatigue as the player copes with daily events. Hassle is also associated with diminished cognitive function such as loss of concentration, focus and attention. On the field, both psychological and cognitive changes can have a major impact on performance. Reduced effort and poor decision-making can also place the athlete in situations where injury risk is greater. For example, a poorly timed and executed tackle due to mental fatigue and lack of proper judgement.

On the other hand, daily uplifts have an overall positive effect on performance. Positive effects include better problem solving and decision-making capabilities and less psychological fatigue. These result in greater focus and effort on the field and, most importantly, a reduced risk of injury.

Small, daily hassles can impact player performance and injury risk. Coaches who work with high school and college players should realize that daily hassles such as academic demands and social pressures could lead to day-to-day changes in the stress level of their players. This in turn, could lead to injuries.

In the movie, “Trouble With the Curve”, the Atlanta Braves baseball management was losing hope in a top prospect who was struggling to hit the ball against minor league competition. Long-time scout, Gus Lobel says that the young player was homesick (daily hassle) and just needed to see his family. After arranging a weekend visit (uplifting), the young prospect had a great weekend at the plate. This movie clip emphasizes how small changes in the emotional state of an athlete can affect performance. Being aware of daily hassles and stressful events like homesickness, congested travel schedules and pending exams can help the coach adjust training and provide a more positive environment to counter the negative hassles. Also, understanding that coping abilities vary from one athlete to another could aid the coach in dealing with individual player performance. By attending the psychological and emotional health of the player, physical health and match performance can be maintained.

Reference

Ivarsson A, Johnson U, Lindwall M, Gustafsson H, Altemyr M (2013) Psychological stress as a predictor of injury in elite junior soccer players: A latent growth curve analysis, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2013.10.242