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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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3 Fear and anxiety

The fear and anxiety experienced by players about to take crucial shots is a natural human response to a demanding situation. In this activity, Michael Johnson explores a sport in which there a huge mental challenge, largely because there is a very real threat to life and limb: downhill ski racing.

Activity 2 A ski racer crashes − primitive fear

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

In the following video, you will see Michael Johnson hearing about fear and anxiety in ski racing. Please avoid watching the whole film. Your main task is to summarise how neuroscientist Ben Seymour describes fear and anxiety.

Go to the video Michael Johnson downhill skier – BBC Inside Sport special [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and start watching at 12:35 for one minute only until Ben Seymour finishes. If you want to watch ski racer Scott McCartney’s stomach-churning crash including the reactions of those watching go back to 08:06 in the video, but be warned that you may find it uncomfortable to watch.

This puts Ben Seymour’s words into a graphic context and it is his academic explanation of fear and anxiety that should be your main focus.


Ben Seymour outlines panic and fear as being a battle between the primitive part of the brain from our evolutionary past and the part of the brain trying to gain control over our actions, trying to get us to make rational decisions. He describes sports peoples’ attempts to suppress automatic primitive fear responses. But fear and panic don’t just apply to sport: we all face it in different ways through the challenges of daily life.

Next, you will discover how people manage their emotions of fear and anxiety.