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.
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- 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.
- 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.