Beta blockers are used in sport to reduce the physical manifestations of a person's anxiety, counteracting the adrenaline that interferes with performance in sports. The use of beta blockers in sport is primarily limited to accuracy-oriented activities like archery and shooting. In activities like gymnastics, golf, and diving, beta blockers can be useful because small physical mistakes may have large impacts on an athlete's overall performance. Many sports players benefit from the extra nervous rush provided by adrenaline, so in these cases beta blockers might not be an advantage. Given the unfair edge provided by beta blockers in sport, these drugs are banned from many professional sporting activities.
The medical use of beta blockers relates to high blood pressure in most cases. This type of medication can slow down a person's heartbeat and reduce tension in muscles. People use beta blockers when playing sports to achieve the same physical state. A slower heartbeat and reduced hand tremors are a major advantage in sports like archery and shooting, in part because a person can shoot more accurately between heartbeats. Accuracy is also improved by the reduction in muscle tension, which reverts a player’s body to his or her most relaxed state of practice.
It is often more difficult to understand the advantage of beta blockers in sport for activities like gymnastics. While gymnastics is a very athletic activity, it is also very focused on precision. A gymnast's ability to stick a landing or keep his or her balance may be improved by beta blockers.
In sports like soccer or basketball that are highly physical, beta blockers may actually be a disadvantage. Athletes who exert themselves while on these drugs often feel nauseous or weak. As such, performance in strenuous sports is actually reduced by beta blockers. Even though some aspects of basketball and soccer require high degrees of accuracy, the disadvantage in terms of athletic ability is usually not considered worth the trade.
There are some controversies concerning whether using beta blockers in sport really is unethical. Beta blockers do not enhance performance in the same ways that drugs like steroids or amphetamines do. These drugs do not make athletes stronger or give them abilities they would not naturally possess. In fact, athletes who use beta blockers in sport can perform only as well as they do in practice, barring a lucky break. Arguably, the athletic advantage provided by beta blockers could be construed as evening the playing field for athletes who suffer from extreme anxiety under pressure.