Do we perform better when we’re relaxed or nervous – a World Cup related thought

Do people perform better when they're somewhat anxious or nervous? Or are they likely to be more effective when they're more relaxed? That's a question that is highly relevant to business and to anyone in a professional job where the role can be difficult or stressful at times. It's also relevant of course to sportsmen, entertainers, politicians and many others in more public roles.

This has been a fascinating World Cup (don't go, non football fans, this isn't really a football post). Games have been exciting and remarkably open, with attacking end to end play and lots of goals scored. But maybe that's because the players don't actually see the World Cup as such a big deal? Most of the best players, from a wide range of countries, perform for most of the time as part of top European teams.

Arguably, winning the European Champions League is a bigger deal these days than winning the World Cup. Maybe even winning the English Premiership or La Liga in Spain outranks the World Cup? And the top half dozen club teams in Europe would expect to beat any national team in the world.

So perhaps the players in Brazil at the moment are just not that bothered and therefore aren’t nervous about this event, hence the openness and excitement. Now that might suggest that a lack of nerves is a good thing for performance. Yet for every exciting piece of attacking play, there is a defensive failure. Perhaps those players don't care enough?

In other professions, such as acting, it is generally perceived that you need a certain amount of nerves to perform well. I know that I give a better speech if I care enough to get a few butterflies before I go out to perform, even if it only to a handful of people. But you don't want that to get to the point of freezing with terror, clearly!

Similarly, if you're going into an important negotiation, then I'd argue you should feel some tension. You should care enough to make sure you prepare, and take time to work out your strategy. Adrenalin helps concentration and alertness, up to a point. It's fine to be relaxed, but not if that means you don't care or can't be bothered to work hard at whatever you’re doing.

Too many nerves, too much anxiety don't help either. But a certain amount, within control and manageable, probably is a good thing in many situations.

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First Voice

  1. Peter Kobryn:

    Interesting point about relaxed teams performing better. Would be instructive to understand why England players seem so nervous and beset with anxiety when playing for the national team

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