Arousal Control

Your ability to control your mindset and peak performance during a game has a lot to do with arousal control. Arousal can be defined as motivation, energy, or effort. It can be measured by your heart-rate, breathing, focus, and nervousness. If you really want to win, you may be highly motivated and nervous. Your heart-rate and breathing may be fast. This is high arousal. If you don’t really care about the game, you may be calm and your heart rate/breathing may be low, but your energy and effort will also be low. This is low arousal.

For most sports that involve fine motor skills such as basketball, tennis, and golf, peak performance requires a moderate amount of arousal. If your arousal is too high, you will be too nervous/tight and won’t be able to play with relaxed concentration. If your arousal is too low, you won’t have the motivation to run fast or your attention span will be too short.  

The Inverted U Theory shows the relationship between arousal and performance.
So how do you control your arousal level so you can reach peak performance? The first step to to become aware of your current arousal level. Your heart rate and breathing can offer feedback on your arousal level. Ask yourself, “Am I giving full effort on every play? Am I getting distracted easily? Am I getting too emotional? Are my muscles too tight?” The answers to these questions can provide feedback for your arousal level.

Once you know your current arousal level, decide whether you need to increase or decrease it. If your arousal level is too low and you are playing sloppy, you can raise your arousal level by taking time to refocus and motivate yourself. If your arousal level is too high, you can calm yourself down by taking deep breaths and changing your self-talk. Negative thoughts may be making you too nervous. To fix this, you can focus on the present moment to quiet your thoughts or you can think more positively. Positive thoughts such as “It's OK, It was only one mistake. There’s still a lot of time left in the game” can ease your emotions/nerves. Once you get to a moderate arousal level, your performance should improve.

The best time to control your arousal level is right before a game starts. Don’t wait til after the game starts. Have a pregame ritual to help control your arousal level and get you in the right mindset for peak performance. Meditation, self-talk, listening to music, deep breathing, and a physical warm-up exercise are some of the best pregame rituals for arousal control.