Activation Strategy

Energizing  strategies,  sometimes  called  activation strategies,  are  primarily  designed  to  increase  the task-specific level of performer’s mental and physical  activity.  They  are  of  interest  to  applied  sport psychologists,  coaches,  and  athletes  alike  as  on occasion  performers  require  strategies  that  help stimulate levels of physical and mental activity.

Arousal and Activation

Given  their  often  interchangeable  use  by  applied sport  psychologists,  it  is  important  to  distinguish between  the  concepts  of  arousal  and  activation. The  critical  distinguishing  factor  here  rests  with the  unplanned  (automatic)  versus  planned  (prepared) nature of the two responses. Arousal is the mental and physiological response activity experienced in relation to an unexpected (or unplanned) input  into  the  system  like  an  unexpected  shout from  the  crowd.  Activation  is  the  mental  and physiological  activity  geared  deliberately  toward preparing  a  planned  response  to  an  anticipated situation or stimulus like the execution of the longjump  in  track  and  field.  Therefore,  the  focus  in this  entry  is  on  activation  states  and,  in  particular,  activation  states  that  facilitate  performance on a given sport task. This will differ from sport to  sport  and  from  task  to  task;  for  example,  the activation  state  required  by  a  golfer  attempting to  sink  a  4-foot  putt  differs  markedly  from  that required by an Olympic weight lifter in the clean and  jerk.  Therefore,  in  some  instances  athletes will  be  required  to  increase  their  state  of  mental and physical activation. The strategies outlined in this  entry  give  some  insight  into  how  performers may induce such increased activated or energized states.  These  strategies  are  usually  introduced  to the  athlete  once  they  have  become  proficient  at using strategies designed to lower their activation state, such as relaxation strategies.

Breathing Strategies Used to Energize and Increase Activation State

In addition to being used to relax performers, controlled breathing can also be used to increase levels of  activation.  Once  athletes  have  attained  a  controlled,  rhythmic,  relaxed  breathing  pattern,  they should  be  asked  to  consciously  increase  breathing rate. Inhaling, the athlete should purposefully try  to  imagine  being  more  energized,  whereas  in exhalation,  the  performer  should  imagine  that with each expired breath fatigue and wasted effort are  removed.  As  the  breathing  rate  is  steadily increased,  cue  words  can  be  used  to  supplement the  energized  breathing  pattern.  For  example, “energy in” can be verbalized with each inhalation and  “fatigue  out”  can  be  the  self-statement  used during exhalation.

Verbalization and Self-Talk Strategies Used to Energize and Increase Activation State

The  use  of  self-talk  strategies  can  provide  performers with a route to increase their level of activation  in  a  very  efficient  manner.  Traditionally, the  generation  of  self-talk  statements  involves athletes  diarizing  the  type  of  words,  statements, and feeling states they associate with an energized activated state. Examples of such words or statements include explode, power, fast, hit, and psych up. Once athletes have produced a bank of statements,  they  should  select  those  they  deem  most applicable  for  use  in  their  sport  or  for  a  particular task within their sport. The applied sport psychologist  should  ensure  the  self-talk  statements adhere to the guidelines surrounding optimal use of  self-talk—specifically,  ensuring  the  statements are  phonetically  simple,  positive  in  form,  related to  the  activation  state  conducive  to  the  action involved  in  the  forthcoming  task,  and  consistent with the energized state the performer is attempting to induce.

Imagery and Visualization Strategies Used to Energize and Increase Activation State

In order to create a more activated state, imagery content,  such  as  imagining  a  particular  situation in one’s mind, can be manipulated to create highimpact visualizations that help alter the energized level  of  the  performer.  The  athlete  will  require a  high  level  of  imagery  ability  to  create  these images, owing to the often fast-paced form of the imagery  routines.  As  such,  assessment  and  work on  the  imagery  ability  of  the  performer  should be a prerequisite of such strategy use. To increase the  activation  state  of  the  performer,  the  image should  reflect  fast  moving,  powerful,  impactful, and  energized  content;  examples  include  working machinery, animals, forces within nature, and the  execution  of  explosive  sporting  movements. Where circumstances allow, the performer can be asked to develop images that show a progressive increase in an energized state in order to steadily increase the activation state—for example, a large boulder  slowly  gathering  momentum  as  it  falls downhill,  gaining  speed  and  energy  as  it  begins to fall faster and faster before reaching full speed and  power  crashing  through  the  obstacles  in  its path.

Combinations of Strategies Used to Energize and Increase Activation State

A  combination  of  several  of  the  strategies  outlined is a useful approach to increasing activation states.  Breathing  strategies  are  often  combined with self-talk statements to increase the efficacy of the energizing strategy. Imagery routines can often be supplemented with self-talk statements oriented around  the  content  and  desired  activation  state the  performer  is  seeking  to  create.  Further,  the nature of the situation may shape the performer’s choice of energizing strategies used. On occasion, the performer may not have time within the fast-paced,  real-time  environment  of  the  sport  to  use an imagery routine. Instead, short, sharp, phonetically simple self-talk statements like “fast” might better suit the confines of such a situation. In comparison, an athlete who requires an increased activation state for a training routine might have the time to combine breathing, self-talk, and imagery strategies into one holistic energizing strategy.


The  applied  sport  psychologist,  coach,  and  performer  all  have  a  role  to  play  in  establishing  the applicable activation state for the performer. The strategies  outlined  in  this  entry  offer  insights  for increasing  activation  states.  These  strategies  can either  be  used  individually  or  combined  to  form a  more  holistic  energizing  program.  However, research  testing  the  efficacy  of  energizing  strategies  for  the  performer  remains  in  its  infancy within  applied  sport  psychology  literature.  Very few  studies  have  tested  the  efficacy  of  individual or combined activation strategies on performance. Those that have done so recommend that sports, or  specific  closed  skill  tasks  within  a  sport  that require  high  activation  or  energized  states,  do benefit  from  some  form  of  energizing  strategy. Clearly,  further  research  is  required  to  establish the  potential  performance  enhancing  effects  of activation strategies and whether one strategy, or a specific combination of strategies, is more effective  at  raising  the  energized  state  of  a  performer over  another.  Therefore,  the  practitioner  should teach  the  performers  a  range  of  strategies  and allow them to explore which is most effective for them and their needs. As with the use of all new strategies  or  techniques,  the  performer  needs  to become proficient in the execution of these strategies before attempting to use them in competitive settings.


  1. Hanton, S., Thomas, O., & Mellalieu, S. D. (2009). Management of competitive stress in elite sport. In B. W. Brewer (Ed.), Handbook of sports medicine and science: Sport psychology (pp. 30–42). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
  2. Mellalieu, S. D., Hanton, S., & Shearer, D. A. (2008). Hearts in the fire, heads in the fridge: A qualitative investigation into the temporal patterning of precompetition psychological response in elite performers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 854–967.
  3. Williams, J. M. (2010). Relaxation and energizing techniques for regulation of arousal. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th ed., pp. 247–266). New York: McGraw-Hill.

See also: