My friends; I would like to take today to address one concept of sport psychology that is VERY misunderstood and misused by coaches and players alike.
Throughout my entire playing career, nearly every coach and every one of my teammates has practiced the commonly known strategy of getting pumped up. At the base level of things, it makes sense, right? You are about to embark on an absolute battle. It’s game time; prepare for big hits, sacrificial plays, and unreal goals. Why not get hyped up?!
Funny enough, 95% of athletes WILL NOT BENEFIT from pump up strategies at all. That’s correct; only 5% of athletes/ performers need to increase Somatic (Body) anxiety prior to competition. Studies within the field of sports psychology have shown that there are far too many athletes who go into performance situations with too high of levels of anxiety and arousal. Essentially this causes their first few minutes of the game to generally be their worst.
The relationship between arousal and performance is described as an Inverse-U, meaning that to a certain point, as arousal rises, so does performance. Once the peak of the “U” is reached, as arousal rises beyond that point, performance begins to drop. What has been commonly seen within the majority (95%) of athletes is that their performance levels would benefit greatly from calming strategies rather than a pump-up before game.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but look at many professional athletes before they begin a play or shift. The clearest example can be seen in baseball or golf, pre-swing. Most elite level athletes have a few deep breathes factored into their routine. The physiological effect of this is one that lowers Somatic Anxiety levels and helps the body to relax and release tension. This lowers arousal in a high intensity situation and gets the athlete closer to optimal performance levels.
Granted, as stated above, this is not 100% of athletes. You will have the 5% that do need the pump-up strategies and to each their own. For those of you who feel like calming the nerves a bit before a game would be beneficial, try to implement some deep breathing strategies while listening to some music on the more mellow side of the spectrum. In through the nose, out through the mouth. If you find yourself losing control during a game, same story. Deep breaths, eyes closed if possible; it will help you flip the switch back to cool, calm, collected, and focus on the correct cues for successful performance.
As always, if you have any questions or want to discuss this more in depth, leave a comment below and I will be sure to get back to you!