Adrenaline Rush

Pressure, adrenaline, stress and their powerful effects on athletic performance.


Photo by Brandon Urbano

Stodden coming out of the blocks at the starting line of the 400 meter dash.

Regardless of their sport or skill level, every athlete has to learn to face pressure and deal with adrenaline at some point in their athletic career.

So, what exactly is adrenaline and why does it affect athletes so intensely?

“Adrenaline is an emergency hormone that’s released in your body when it’s in an emergency situation,” Health teacher and track coach Annie Chadwick said. “When it comes to athletics, your brain is still going through its stress response although you aren’t in an emergency. Your brain perceives a threat, and that threat can be a difficult situation, or a situation that might be painful or uncomfortable.” 

Chadwick has experience with athletic adrenaline thanks to her own collegiate running career at UNO. 

“My best steeplechase performance was at our conference championships,” Chadwick said. 

Since she competed in a bigger race, more was at stake for her and her team. This added amount of pressure enabled Chadwick to rise to the occasion and use that extra adrenaline to succeed. 

Senior and Doane University baseball commit, Trey Wells, shares similar experiences with feelings of adrenaline affecting him in a positive way. 

Wells up to bat. (Photo by Sugar Thiessen)

“I’ve had quite a few games where college coaches are watching me. Instead of letting that get in my head, I take it as an opportunity to show them my talent,” Wells said. “The pressure of them watching me pushes me to play at my best.” 

Wells is an athlete in particular who appreciates and enjoys the effects of adrenaline in his athletic performance. 

“I want to be put in stressful situations so I get the opportunity to make a big play,” Wells said. 

Evidently, adrenaline can immensely help an athlete; however, there comes a point when these high levels of pressure and adrenaline turn into something that can be damaging to performance instead of beneficial. 

Sophomore track athlete Sydney Stodden learned to deal with her pre-race nerves and adrenaline over time, but it was a process. 

“I used to get really nervous before every race that I would run to the point where it would hinder my ability,” Stodden said. “When I was in sixth grade I had made it to track and field nationals. A couple days before, I got myself so nervous that I was making myself sick. When the race actually came I ran the worst time of my season. It wasn’t because my body wasn’t ready, it was because my head was stopping me.”

Now, Stodden is the proud owner of several state medals, including two basketball state championships and a 1st place finish in the 4×400 relay for track. So, how did Stodden manage to take control of her nerves and use her adrenaline to be successful? 

“The person who has helped me most has been my sports psychologist. He taught me how to manage my stress and make sure when an important event comes around, I know in my head that I am capable,” Stodden said. 

To measure how stress, pressure, and adrenaline affect performance, the “Yerkes-Dodson Curve” is commonly used. This chart shows that the highest level of performance can be found when an athlete is under a moderate level of stress. 

If there is not enough pressure put on an athlete, he or she may be uninterested or simply not care much about their success, which makes their likelihood of doing well much lower. 

On the other hand, too much anxiety or pressure on an athlete can lead to low success as well. This is why it’s important for athletes to find a balance between too much and too little pressure when competing. 

Altogether, adrenaline has different effects from person to person, but scientifically it is proven that a certain amount of pressure is most desirable in order to have success.  So, next time stepping up to the starting line, being on deck to bat, or standing at the free throw line, remember those butterflies might not be a bad thing!