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  • Writer's pictureCarol Alford

Arousal versus performance

Have you ever noticed that you perform better when you are just a little bit nervous? My son says he loves that feeling of excitement of playing a new course for the first time and not knowing what to expect. That excitement actually spurs him on to play exceptionally good golf. However, trying to recreate that feeling when he needs to play well is not always easy to achieve.  

In psychology, this relationship between arousal levels and performance is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law.  Don't worry I'm not going to bore you with theories, instead I thought you would find it interesting to know more about this relationship and how it can have an impact on your behaviour and performance.

How does the Yerkes-Dobson Law work? There is a direct relationship between performance and arousal. Increased arousal can help improve performance, but only on up to a certain point. Once that point is crossed the arousal becomes excessive and performance diminishes. The anxiety you experience before a competition, if contained will give you the ideal level of arousal to sharpen your focus and boost your performance, too much however, can impair your ability to concentrate and make it difficult to perform. High levels will result in tension in the muscles and the releasing of chemicals, which can slow down your thinking. Excessive amounts can cause a player to choke, preventing them from playing a shot.

So how do you know when your arousal level is ideal? Arousal levels will fluctuate throughout your game, depending on the shot you are about to take and how complex it might be. To give you a clearer understanding, lets take the first tee shot in a major competition. This will require a far higher level, to motivate your peak performance, to hit a long drive, compared to a much lower level needed to sink a short putt.

Arousal is also determined by psychological processes such as emotions and thoughts, it's often linked to anxiety. So if you place a huge amount of importance on a shot, or begin to worry or feel nervous, it can increase your anxiety, which in turn will impact your arousal level. When your arousal levels are too high you will start to feel the tension in your muscles and find yourself focusing on broader issues. Instead of focusing on your process, chances are you will become more aware of your environment and find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated with your playing partners, or external noises, or slow play holding you up.

What should you do when arousal levels are too high? As soon as you notice these shift changes, stop and take a few slow deep abdominal breathes. Focusing on your breathing interrupts yours thoughts, allowing your alpha waves in the brain to increase and lower your arousal state. You will see tour players using this technique in competition. They have learnt to tap into their optimum arousal levels to improve performance and maintain composure in the heat of the moment - Brooks Keopka especially. 

Tour players will play at optimum arousal levels between 4 to 6, ( 6 for long game and 4 for short game).  Become aware of your arousal rates when playing, use slow deep abdominal breathing techniques to reset. If you would like more information on these techniques please get in touch.

If you would like to learn more about the mental side of the game please get in touch or check out our other blogs, there's something in here for everyone.


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