I am currently flying on an airplane on my way home from a track meet at Arizona State University. Going into the race, I had many reasons to lack confidence including not doing workouts for a week due to illness and then had an Achilles strain. I also didn't get to wear my racing shoes due to injury. Naturally, my anxiety levels were high, but with the help of this class, I was able to use P³ thinking (productive, positive, and possibility thinking) (Vealey, 2005). I also attempted to pay attention to my emotions and how "energized" I was feeling and attempted to acknowledge that the negative and uncomfortable feelings could help me. I realized that I need to be more systematic and intentional about the emotional aspects that go into preparing for a race. I was so excited to share with my teammates the need to be aware of both the positive and negative feelings that occur during pre competition mode, and how they can either hinder or help performance. I did share with some teammates and realized that there is so much behind controlling energy arousal levels and responding to pressure other than simply listing positive and negative emotions. Being intentional about controlling arousal levels is connected to P³ thinking, goal setting, imagery, and self image.
The first step to monitoring arousal levels before and during competition is acknowledging that you can't just "hope" that your emotional levels will be perfect and will result in optimal performance. You can't just "react" to your emotions or the situation, but you must be purposeful and systematic. Athletes can practice responding to a variety of emotions during practice and can use imagery to prepare for any situation, so that their responses become automatic and dominant. Vealey states that under high intensity and pressure the dominant response occurs. The goal is to help athletes develop and be able to maintain emotional composure so that it is the dominant and consequently automatic response when they are in a pressure situation. This ultimately will put them in a situation that is likely to result in a "flow."
Pressure "occurs when an attractive and highly valued incentive creates an urgent and compelling force on an athlete to succeed" (Vealey, p.287, 2005). When an athlete feels like they may not live up to their own or other's expectations, pressure increases. It is exciting to note that pressure does not necessarily hurt performance, but it is how an athlete responds to it. I believe, however, that it is first important that athletes manage pressure. Coaches can help athletes to effectively set goals in order to manage pressure. If athletes have effective goal mapping skills they will set a variety of goals that are not exclusively focused on performance, which can decrease pressure. Some goals will monitor progress and process which will perhaps help achieve their milestone goals. Athletes can focus on specific performance and process goals that help them to focus on the task of competition rather than outside pressure.
Having specific process and performance goals can help athletes focus on aspects of sport that they can control, which Dr. LaVoi recommends to maintain a mastery motivational climate. Athletes can and should use P³ thinking while setting and focusing on their goals. P³ thinking can help athletes to manage pressure. Thinking should be purposeful, productive, and possible. Athletes can ask themselves three questions that Vealey suggests: "What is my job?, How do I do it?, Can I do it?, and Will I do it?" In this way athletes stay focused on the things that they can control.
Although you want to reduce the feeling of pressure, it is an inevitable part of competition and actually a potentially beneficial aspect of competition. Coaches can share with athletes that pressure is something that can be embraced. Although it may not be comfortable, it can be beneficial. This can be related to the need for negative emotions that benefit performance (Vealey, 2005). Coaches can ask athletes why they compete. Such an open ended can remind athletes that they love to compete and play their sport; that is if they feel like they are free to be competing. Anderson and Aberman remind coaches that athletes need to feel free to quit before they can really be intrinsically motivated. If an athlete feels like they are free to quit, they will also feel free to compete and identify what they love about their sport. Christina Koznik is a perfect example of this; she was feeling too much pressure after skiing competitively for many years, and finally after she focused on why she loved her sport and did not allow her sport to define her, she was able to embrace the challenge of competing (Anderson, p. 161, 2006). Coaches can remind athletes that the feeling of pressure has the ability to refine them like a diamond, and that moments of the intense pressure in competition are the moments that we relish and cling to in the end (Vealey, 2005). Finally, as emphasized earlier in the year, athletes must not base their entire identity on their performance. If how they perform completely defines them, pressure will increase dramatically, and it may have a paralyzing effect, and the athlete will not intrinsically enjoy competition.
Coaches can remind and teach athletes how to respond to pressure and how to monitor arousal levels, but a coach is responsible for monitoring his or her own optimal energy levels in competition. As intensity/energy increases, focus narrows. Thus, coaches do not want to have too narrow of a focus, or they will not be able to do their job well (Vealey, 2005). The way a coach reacts really affects how a team responds to intense situations. For example, when Coach Anderson was blaming umpires and yelling, one of his players told him that his behavior was having a negative effect on his team (Anderson et al, p.174, 2006). It is, therefore, essential that a coach monitors and prepares with effective goal mapping, imagery, and P³ thinking to prepare for optimal emotional/energy arousal. As a current athlete, I will attempt to develop these mental skills, and will transfer them to coaching, so that I can be a consistent model for my athletes.
Anderson & Aberman (A & A) (2006). Why Good Coaches Quit.
Vealey, R. (2005). Coaching for the Inner Edge. Morgantown, VW: Fitness Information