In any competitive activity, an athlete must have an optimal level of psychological arousal to facilitate ideal performance. It is thought that higher anxiety and harm avoidance is associated with poorer performance in combat sports. It is also thought that certain genetic psychological traits, in particular the behavioural response to stress, are associated with greater sports performance.

In this study, 46 italian karate athletes underwent genomic DNA 5HTTLPR polymorphism testing, as well as a personality questionnaire (TPQ). They then participated in a match, with cortisol levels (used as a proxy for anxiety levels) measured 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after.

Cortisol levels pre-competition were higher in losing athletes, as were scores of harm avoidance (HA) on the TPQ. HA scores and cortisol levels were also significantly correlated. Genetic testing showed athletes with the SS allele had higher levels of pre-fight cortisol, however this was not correlated with competition results. 

The findings of this study may be useful in helping coaches predict athletes’ responses to the stress of competition in order to integrate coping strategies, and also guiding psychological skills training interventions to optimise the performance of those athletes who are negatively impacted by anxiety and harm avoidance.

#karate #sportspsychology #mma #martialarts #psychologicalskillstraining

Ponzi, Davide, Harold Dadomo, Laura Filonzi, Paola Palanza, Annalisa Pelosi, Graziano Ceresini, Stefano Parmigiani, and Francesco Nonnis Marzano. “Cortisol, Temperament and Serotonin in Karate Combats: An Evolutionary Psychobiological Perspective.” Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology (2021): 1-18.

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert