Consistency in psychological factors is widely regarded to be important for successful performance in team sports, but the Zone of Optimal Function (ZOF) theory contends that athletes should exhibit considerable variability in the level of anxiety that will optimize performance. In an attempt to determine if tenets of ZOF theory held for athletes in a team sport, anxiety was measured using Spielberger's state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI) at the baseline and before easy and difficult competitions in nine members of a collegiate women's volleyball team. The ability to predict precompetition anxiety was assessed by having the athletes complete the STAI both 3 weeks and 2 days before each match according to how they thought they would feel 1 h before competition. Each athlete also completed the STAI on the basis of how she recalled feeling before her best competition. Four anxiety units were added and subtracted from this value to establish the ZOF of each player. Actual precompetition anxiety was assessed 1 h before each match. In accordance with ZOF theory, considerable variability was found in the range of optimal anxiety, and 55.5% of the team members reported performing best at either low or high levels of anxiety. The prediction of precompetition anxiety made 2 days before competition was significantly correlated to actual anxiety for the difficult match (r = 0.69, P < 0.05) but not the easy match (r = 0.21, P > 0.05). Predictions made 3 weeks before competition were not significant (P > 0.05). More (P < 0.05) of the player possessed anxiety levels within the ZOF for the difficult match compared with the easy match (77.7% versus 22.2%). In summary, athletes in the team sport of volleyball exhibit considerable variation in optimal precompetition anxiety in accordance with ZOF theory. As posited by ZOF theory, the athletes were able to predict anxiety before a difficult match accurately and were more likely to have anxiety levels with ZOF.
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