The Impact of Stress

26th March 2024

For amateur squash players straddling athletic aspirations alongside their other life commitments, peak performance means navigating a complex terrain of stressors that can profoundly influence physical output. Understanding the nuanced effects of day-to-day mental stress as a part-time athlete is paramount to not only optimising sporting potential, but also for balancing overall well-being.

Stress effects us all in a multitude of ways. It elicits a complex physiological response within us, and can be triggered by numerous different things, big or small – a bad day at work, family financial worries, or an argument with a spouse. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, plays a pivotal role in this response. While crucial for managing acute stress, prolonged elevation of cortisol levels due to chronic stress can compromise an athlete’s physical health. Immune function, sleep patterns, and recovery processes suffer, directly impacting an athlete’s readiness and physical capabilities. 

The cognitive implications of stress are well studied. Heightened stress levels can impair brain function, including attention, decision-making, and memory. For part-time squash players dealing with multiple other stressors alongside their squash, the cognitive disturbances that are triggered have the potential to significantly hinder their ability to focus during training sessions and competitions, which can significantly hamper consistency and performance. Optimal performance necessitates a focused and present mindset – mental stress can disrupt this focus, hindering the ability to fully engage when on court. Consequently, suboptimal adaptations and hindered skill development become a reality for part-time players juggling diverse commitments, even when they’re putting the work in on court.

It’s also important to note that competition can amplify stress levels. Part-time athletes who are already dealing with various stressors, very often will experience heightened anxiety before events. This anxiety directly affects confidence levels, composure, and decision-making during pivotal moments, ultimately influencing their overall performance outcomes.

Part-time athletes, driven by a passion for their sport while managing multiple life commitments, thus encounter a complex interplay between mental stress and their performance on the field or court. Understanding the roots and effectively managing this stress is pivotal for optimising your squash performance.

There are however a number of coping strategies the amateur player can harness. Incorporating mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and visualisation for example, can be very powerful tools. These practices equip athletes with the ability to manage stress, enhance focus, and cultivate mental resilience, positively influencing their sporting performance.

Effective time management and setting realistic goals are both also extremely important in stress alleviation. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance through mentorship or professional support, as these interventions can offer invaluable insights and assistance in navigating challenges effectively. Dedicated sports psychologists can be great, but even just chatting to somebody more generally qualified/experienced can help across the wider picture.

A holistic training approach is another important consideration for performance optimisation. Prioritising recovery and implementing well-structured training cycles is imperative for those susceptible to the impacts of stress, as is adequate rest, optimal dietary intake, and a properly scheduled competition calendar. The dynamic relationship between day-to-day mental stress and sporting performance necessitates a head-on approach for part-time players – recognizing stress’s multidimensional influence on physiology, cognition, training, and competition is crucial in formulating effective strategies.

By integrating better structure, seeking appropriate support, fostering resilience, prioritising recovery, and controlling the controllables, part-time athletes can adeptly navigate stressors and optimise their performance, striking a harmonious balance amidst life’s diverse demands.


Gary Nisbet 

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Conditioning Director

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