In our last article on Emotional Control, we mentioned that there are strategies that can be employed to take charge of the negative thoughts or feelings that can arise before and during the competition and even after. For this particular instalment we’re going to focus on preparing for the event and the lead up to getting on the mats. In all aspects of emotional control, self awareness gives you the power to act. If you know how you typically act, think and feel under competition conditions you can begin to formulate a strategy to get you to the competition floor with the optimal level of arousal to perform at your best. Speaking of which… what’s this arousal thing you speak of?
The Yerkes-Dodson law proposes that there’s an optimal level of anxiety for a given difficulty of task. When applied within sport we tend to think of anxiety as the negative response to stress and arousal as a positive response to stress but the concept is the same. If you have a very high skill level / competence then your performance may be helped by ‘psyching yourself up’, moving to a higher energy state both physically and psychologically. If your skill / competence is lower relative to the task at hand, you may benefit from calming yourself down and working towards a lower energy state.
Whichever situation presents itself, we come to know that we perform best when our arousal is in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ not too little, not too much. This is easiest to understand through an example or two. Let’s say I’m getting ready to compete in power breaking at the European championships. I’m national champion in my country, but I’ve only broken the full number of boards required for Euros for each technique on separate occasions, never on the same day under competition conditions. In this case, amping myself up, bouncing, shouting, getting slaps on the back, sniffing smelling salts etc. might very easily push me past my optimum level of arousal and into a negative state of anxiety or over arousal. I’m more likely to rush, lose focus, break protocol, misjudge distance, miss the line or something else and that will result in missed breaks. I should probably focus on a well rehearsed and thorough warm up, keep my routine as close to perfect as I can and take steady breaths between techniques, repeating an affirmation or cue word as needed.
Conversely, you might have found yourself approaching a competition and when asked about your preparation or your feelings about the event you said something like ‘I’m not feeling this one’ or ‘I’m not really up for it’ This can be the consequence of a low arousal state. This could be because the competition doesn’t matter, you’re competing against familiar opponents, you’re tired or sick, you feel underprepared etc. No matter the cause, your performance will typically be better if you can raise your energy level and arousal. Get your coach or warm up partner to inject some energy in the warm up, listen to your favourite music, move, bounce, laugh, play, tell jokes. The exact solution will be different for everyone.
We’re going to deal with strategies to manage anxiety and arousal before competition in future articles, but you’ll find it immensely more beneficial if you know yourself a little better first. We’ve attached two questionnaires that we’ve used to help coaches and athletes to discover and strategise around habits, beliefs, thoughts and emotions that are relevant to competition and competition preparation. Take some time and fill them in, you might learn something about yourself and you’ll certainly be able to make more use of our follow on articles, games and drills.
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Pre Competition Questionnaire