Whenever a sport psychologist is asked to think about arousal regulation they immediately think of axiety and their immediate aim is to reduce that anxiety thereby increase performance. Most of the athletes I have spoken to though have little problem with their nerves but more of a issue with the will to win and ability to 'psych themselves up', get a fire in their belly and be ready to fight to the death for a gold medal. Now I think school has something to do with this and this whole culture that the UK has of participation is the most important thing has a lot to answer for in lower level sport, however I think the answer does lie within the athlete. Psyching up and developing a will to win is something that I have constantly be asked about so here I am attempting to do a little bit of education on psyching up and increasing arousal.
Psyching up refers to the self-directed cognitive or behavioural strategies designed to enhance physical performance (Tod, Iredal, and Gill, 2003). It ensures that there is adequete blood flow, oxygen, and adrenaline in the tissues necessary for the strength , agility and stamina you need to perform at your best. It is more regularly found in sports where extreme power is needed such as weight lifting, pole vault, boxing, sprinting, short distance swimming etc. There is a common belief among athletes that these kinds of cognitive and physical strategies will help them to be more power and be able to lift heavier, swim faster, jump higher. Research has stated that there is a significant performance advantage to psyching up as opposed to doing no such psyching up activity. Its probably noteworthy here that different sports and different skills within that sport will require a different level of psyching up. For example a deadlift would require significantly more psyching up that a short put on a flat green of the 5th tee. Each skill in each sport will have a different Zone of Optimal Functioning before then a catastrophic drop off in performance will occur. There are five basic dimensions of zone of optimal function; form, contect, intensity, time, and contect, which are used to describe the individual optimal and dysfunctional dynamics of the emotion and performance relationship. Interestingly each athlete as an individual will also have an optimal emotion intensity and to make it even more complicated each athlete will have a different constellation or recipe of individually optimal and dysfunctional emotions. Below are a few techniques you can use to help with psyching up:
Intense breathing - Just as deep breathing can reduce anxiety, fast, sharp, short breaths can take your body and mind to higher intensity.
Moving around - Often you will see athletes hitting themselves, jumping, running fast on the spot, looking fast and energetic. More often that not these athletes are trying to psych themselves up. This fast movement increases physiological activity whcih then increases cognitive arousal
High energy self-talk - How often on TV do you see an athlete muttering something to themselves, or see a weightlifter shouting or grunting. These high energy words or phrases can be used to psych yourself up as well as control your anxiety.
Music- Music has been show to increase and decrease arousal. Music with faster beats increase arousal, music with slow beat, decreases arousal. The sensations of high intensity music will help you to increase your cognitive arousal which will in turn increase your physiological arousal.
These are not fool proof and would need practice but there are few suggestions here on how to psych up for that explosive performance. If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch. If you want to engage in consulatncy with me around psyching up and preparing for a compeition please feel free to drop me an email.
Building a high performance environment.
January 14, 2015
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Sport Psychologists: An interesting bunch but what do we actually do.