Stress, emotion & performance in sport

Advancing understanding of the causes of stress in sport, why individuals react to stress differently and how stress effects their performance and wellbeing.

To succeed at the top level of sport, athletes must negotiate and overcome a wide range of challenges. Apart from the obvious demands associated with training and competing, higher standards of athletic performance bring with them increasing lifestyle and organisational related stressors.

These challenges often coincide with one of the most demanding stages of human life: transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Withstanding and adapting to this array of stressors is necessary if athletes are to fulfil their sporting potential and gain the competitive edge.

Our research findings are used by athletes, teams, coaches, psychologists, and organisations to help them and those they work with to better prepare for and effectively manage stress.

In a similar way that athletes train for the physical and technical demands of athletic competition, individuals operating in this context also need to train for the psychosocial stress and pressure of performance sport. Underpinned by the research evidence, coaches and consultants work within Olympic, Paralympic and professional sport to optimise individuals’ experiences and their environment to enhance performance and wellbeing.

Dr David Fletcher

Research in focus

The Meta-Model of Stress, Emotions, and Performance

The meta-model of stress, emotions, and performance outlines the theoretical relationships among key processes, moderators, and consequences of the stress process. The model offers a supraordinate perspective of the stress-emotion-performance relationship and provided the first serious consideration of the transactional nature of stress as a dynamic process in sport literature. At its most fundamental level, the meta-model postulates that stressors arise from the environment an individual operates in, are mediated by the processes of appraisal and coping, and, as a consequence, individuals respond in different ways.

A Multi-Phased Approach to Stress and Pressure Training

Preventative or reductive stress management is an insufficient, and sometimes an inappropriate, approach to supporting athletes for performance in pressurized competition; rather enabling athletes to learn and practice skills under conditions of pressure will likely be essential to attain and sustain the highest levels of performance. It is, therefore, important that coaches and psychologists have access to evidence-based guidelines to inform practice in this area. It is recommended that practitioners adopt a multi-phased approach to stress and pressure training consisting of three main phases: preparation and design, delivery and implementation, and debrief and review.

  • Fletcher, D. and Arnold, R. (2021). Stress and pressure training. In R. Arnold and D. Fletcher (Eds.), Stress, Well-being, and Performance in Sport (pages 261-296). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Meet the expert

Dr David Fletcher’s consultancy, research and teaching focuses on the psychology of performance excellence in sport, business and other performance domains. His work addresses how high achievers thrive on pressure and deliver sustained success, and clusters around the following performance themes:

  • Leadership and Management (e.g. high performance leadership, managing elite teams)
  • Environments and Cultures (e.g. organisational functioning and effectiveness, campaign planning)
  • People and Teams (e.g. thriving and growth, psychological and team resilience, stress and emotion, mental health and wellbeing, lifestyle management)
  • Consultancy and Coaching (e.g. psychosocial skills and interventions, professional competence and development)
Dr David Fletcher

Dr David Fletcher

Senior Lecturer in Performance Psychology and Management