Controlled Energy

With the NFL preseason underway and the MLB playoffs right around the corner it’s a great time to examine energy and how it impacts performance.

Energy levels can fluctuate depending on environment and situation, but the ability to control energy is essential for peak performance under pressure.  Increased energy can especially help with tasks like tackling or legging out an infield hit.  But that increased energy can also lead to tightening of muscles and cause tasks such as field goal kicking, throwing, and hitting seem much harder.  Home court advantage, momentum, and crowd noise are playoff buzzwords that are seemingly beneficial for player performance, but an increased energy does not always lead to increased performance.  The need to be calm and relaxed is evident in the three examples below.

A field goal kicker needs to be calm and collected so that they can kick in high-pressure situations.  If they are not relaxed, even the simplest of tasks may seem difficult.  Last year Baltimore Ravens Kicker Billy Cundiff missed a kick that would have helped his team go to Overtime and play for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

The ability to control energy in pressure situations can often be the difference between making and missing a field goal.

Baseball pitchers normally strive to stay calm when they’re on the mound.   When they are too energized, they have a tendency to lose focus and be unable to recover from missed pitches.  On the mound, a pitcher needs to be able to stay relaxed and allow their arm to just “throw”.  If they get too jacked up it may cause them to lose control over the strike zone and become overly aggressive.  However, an increase in energy can also lead to throwing harder, so an increased energy certainly can be beneficial.  Like field goal kicking and pitching, hitting a baseball often requires a lowering of energy and a relaxed state.  Notice how a hitter tries to calm down before entering the batters box.

While raucous crowds, pregame speeches, and pressure situations can certainly dictate energy–none of those factors are actually in the athlete’s control.   An athlete’s ability to control their energy and realize when to get pumped up and when to calm down is a huge key to performance.

The Yerkes and Dodson Inverted U theory suggests there is an optimal level of arousal an athlete needs for performance.  It suggests that not enough energy leads to poor performance, but too much energy also leads to poor performance.  It points out that energy is tied to finding optimal performance.

So how can you apply this information to your sport?  Below are three ways to control energy.

Self-talk 

Don’t take your own words for granted.  You have the ability to get yourself energized or calm yourself down by simply using words.  Before the game starts you should plan for when to be pumped up and when to be calm.  Have key words ready to use at your disposal.

Music

By now you’ve seen an elite athlete tied to their headphones before they perform.  Music has been synonymous with performance for a long time, but the choice of music is more important than actually using it.  Once you figure out what type of energy you need, make sure to align your music with it.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing is your number one ally for controlling energy in the moment.  Develop breathing patterns to use when you find yourself getting over energized and need to calm down.  Watch an NBA player at the free throw line, a pitcher on the mound, and a hockey goalie during timeouts, and you’ll see them often controlling their breathing.