Impact of Optimal Arousal
It all seemed to happen in slow motion.
Reggie Miller, Monica Seles, Wayne Gretzky, and many others in describing an optional state of arousal experienced during athletic performance
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus welcomes arousal, but he believes that the majority of his opponents do not. That’s just fine with him. During his prime, the terrific pressure of playing in the top competitions was a key factor in Nicklaus’ high percentage of victories in the four majors the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open, and PGA Championship. From 1960 through 1980, he played in 289 nonmajor events and won 50, for a 17.3 winning percentage. In the majors, despite playing against more talented fields, Nicklaus won 17 of 76 events, for a 22.4 percentage. In the majors, you knew when it got closer to the final day, the pack ahead of you would fall back because of the pressure, Nicklaus said. In other words, their tension affected their strokes, and their scores ballooned, while Nicklaus kept his cool.
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Until recently, many sports researchers and psychologists have agreed that a high level of pressure and arousal are usually detrimental to performance, especially in sports involving fine motor skills. Sport psychologist Thomas T utko has said that more athletes succumb to feelings of arousal than benefit from them. It is far more common in athletics for anxieties and tensions to be disruptive both physically, affecting your playing ability, and mentally, affecting your concentration and judgment.
Lately, more reports are coming forth that even in golf, tennis, and other fine-skill sports, athletes sometimes have improved concentration and results under a high state of tension or pressure. One thing remains agreed upon: under pressure, most athletes usually perform better or worse than without pressure there is almost always some effect. Most records are broken by athletes under the stress of competitive arousal; they are seldom broken during practice. And yet many athletes perform better under relaxed conditions than they do under the gun.
Much depends on the task, or skill, being performed, says psychologist Charles Spielberger:
A football lineman is very focused on a task in terms of blocking or rushing a passer. Anger might facilitate that type of performance and energize more vigorous activity. But you don’t want to have a quarterback angry most of the time. He has to read defenses, have peripheral vision, and to make quick decisions. Anger might interfere.