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Performance and Arousal

“In a close game, I check my pulse. I know if it gets over one hundred, it’s going to affect my thinking.” – Phil Jackson

Arousal, which was defined in the text as, “an energizing function that is responsible for harnessing the body’s resource for intense and vigorous activity” (Sage, 1984), is nondirectional in terms of being positive or negative (Landers & Arent, 2010). The idea is that a midfielder can have the same arousal levels when completing a through pass or scoring an own goal. Such arousal levels impact physiological functioning due to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. In addition to the physiological measures previously stated, researchers can also measure arousal levels biochemically and through questionnaires (Landers & Arent, 2010).

Every time a soccer player steps onto the field, they are expecting to perform to the best of their ability, and in order to achieve such performance levels, the athlete must be appropriately aroused. “Players must learn to check and regulate their state of arousal: too much, and they may be out of control emotionally and wasting energy; too little and they may not be able to produce the required intensity of focus and intensity” (Beswick, 2010). As a coach, it is imperative to be aware of the different emotional states that exist within a team. Every player is different, requiring individualized techniques in order to achieve optimal levels of arousal for peak performance.

Within the game of soccer, there are many facets that can either increase or decrease a players’ level of arousal. For instance, a highly recruited collegiate player is experiencing increased arousal levels before his first game with his college. The young player is psyched to make his debut at the college level, however, as he puts on his uniform, his increased arousal levels also include negative thoughts (performance disregulation) such as “am I worth a $50,000 scholarship”, “I should have went to lower level college”, and “I am not ready. I hope I do not play tonight”. In this particular situation, the college player is experiencing state anxiety due to the anticipation of his first game at the collegiate level. However, in the same locker room as the distressed, highly recruited freshman, is the under aroused senior that is continuing with the team in order to maintain his scholarship during his final season.

By understanding the physiological responses with regards to over and under arousal levels, the coach can positively impact their players in order to achieve optimal arousal levels. The distressed freshman had sweat dripping from his face and hands while he was suiting up. If the coach recognized the warning signs, they could restate their confidence in the player, reframe the challenge as achievable, engage the players in muscle relaxation via diaphragmatic breaths, or display encouraging humor to dispel anxiety (Beswick, 2010). Conversely, for the demotivated senior who has the look of disinterest, the coach could remind the player that excellence is a habit, create an intense warm-up, or if all else fails, get angry and provoke a response (Beswick, 2010).

In order to ensure optimal performance, each athlete should be self-aware of his or her pre-match arousal levels in addition to learning techniques to increase or decrease those levels to optimal functioning. “You can’t control your performance until you are in control of yourself. What you’re thinking. How you are feeling. Most importantly, your physiology. Know your numbers and your early warning signs” (Mack & Casstevens, 2001).


Beswick, Bill. (2010). Focused for Soccer (89). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Landers, D. M. & Arent, S. M. (2010). Arousal-performance relationships. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sports psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (221-246). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Mack, G., & Casstevens, D. (2001). Mind Gym: An athlete’s guide to inner excellence (34). Contemporary Books.

Sage, G. (1984). Motor learning and control. Dubuque, IA: Brown.

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