Skills Best Influenced by Arousal
Different skills require different arousal levels, sports researcher Dan Landers says. Conceding exceptions such as Nicklaus, Landers claims that generally speaking there is, for each task a different level of stress that might be needed. In archery and shooting, where you need steady nerves and precision, you don’t want high levels of arousal.
It could cause too much tremor. But in other events, you want more excitement. In a sport such as football, arousal levels should vary for players of different positions depending on the skills they use during a game. Linemen wonder why coaches are always yelling in their faces while the quarterbacks get treated with kid gloves, Landers says. Ifs because ifs often effective to get a lineman worked up, whereas a quarterback needs to remain calm.
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In football, the tasks of the various positions are rather obvious, but even in a sport like gymnastics, some skills or tasks flourish under a high level of arousal, whereas others fail. The vault, for instance, requires psyching up to a high level of arousal, while the beam requires the arousal level to come way down. Falls on the beam are often attributed to a too-high arousal level that distracts focus.
Most experts do agree that high arousal tends to help performance in explosive sports that involve power and short-term speed. Sports such as ski racing, where competitors live on the edge, require high arousal. Former Canadian skiing standout Steve Podborski says, Downhill skiing is the classic fight or flight syndrome. The only thing I want to do when I am going fast is to go faster. You don’t think. There is no thought process in skiing. You react like an animal.
All athletes have to learn how to get the arousal that most matches the challenges of their sport, says Jay T. Kearney, a psychologist who works with the U.S. Olympic team. You can’t take the explosive anger component for a shot-putter and have a golfer or marksman in that level of arousal. And you probably can’t be a marathon runner and have the same kind of aggressiveness as (sprinter) Ben Johnson. There’s an incredible balance in all of that.
Robert Weinberg, PhD, professor and chair of the physical education and sport studies at Miami University in Ohio, agrees that sport skills that require short, quick bursts of energy and power (e.g., track and field, hockey, some skills in football) apparently benefit most from high levels of arousal, whereas precision skills (e.g., archery, shooting free-throws in basketball, and putting in golf) benefit from a much lower optimal levels of arousal. Weinberg has prepared a chart matching sports skills to their ideal arousal level (see table 2.1).