Balancing Exercises For Athletes

Fear of Danger

Some sports, such as boxing, football, and skiing, offer physical danger to the athlete, which trumps up a special kind of fear and anxiety perhaps closer to the natural age- old response of fight or flight, in which a person goes through numerous physiological changes in order to try to survive physically. Dan O’Brien admits that he is sometimes physically afraid of the pain that will come in the 1,500 meters, the final event of the punishing 10-event decathlon.

Marlin M. MacKenzie, EdD, a counselor for professional and amateur athletes, said that in competitive skiing, performers can fear getting injured or even killed. Fear is initiated either by the thought or act of losing balance and control, he said. The paradox of skiing well without undue fear is deliberately to go with gravity. In other words, skiing consists of falling upright, not in a heap, down the mountain when fear creeps in, the willingness to become part of gravity wanes; as a result, performance deteriorates.

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Greg Louganis experienced a series of anxieties in the 1988 Olympics, including the fear of serious or fatal injury. In a preliminary dive in the 10-meter springboard competition, Louganis smashed his head on the board, only the second time in 180,000 dives it had happened to him. A few minutes later, after his head had been sewn up with four stitches, he climbed back up on the board for a second dive, not only fearing for his safety but worried that blood contaminated from his secret AIDS virus had dripped into the pool. Louganis patted his heart and pulled off a near-flawless dive with no splash. Controlling my fear gave me a goal, he said. Later, Louganis used the dive of death, a reverse two-and-a-half pike that had killed a Soviet diver, to win the gold medal.

Throughout his life, Louganis had learned not to give in to pressure and problems; as a child he had been taunted because he was adopted, homosexual, dyslexic, and the product of an interracial marriage. He said that throughout his diving career, he used several things to calm himself before big events to listen to classical music, carry his teddy bear Gar to the pool with him, and to remember that his mother loved him.

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