It's all about The U...Inverted

What is the correct level of arousal for me to perform my best?  After you snicker like a 7th grader in Sex Ed class, that is what the concept of the Inverted U looks to answer.  Here is a graph displaying the concept of the Inverted U before we discuss it further:

As you can see, the concept of the Inverted U is shown through the use of a parabola (that's the curvy line).  On the X-Axis is arousal level or excitement level.  Its scale works from 0 to 10.  This scale can mean different things for different people.  For me, I think of 0 as being asleep.  A 10 for me is flipping out where you have completely lost control of yourself and what you are doing.  On the Y-Axis is your performance.  A 0 is as bad as it gets, and a 10 is your peak performance.  The parabola illustrates, in a nutshell, that there is an ideal level of arousal for you to perform your best.  If your level is too low or too high, you will not achieve your peak performance.  The parabola above is just to illustrate the general concept of the Inverted-U.  The chart could be different for a variety of reasons.  Sport being played, actual role in sport, and personality of the individual, among other factors, can influence how the an athlete's parabola would be drawn.  For example, a golfer trying to sink a putt would probably have a different ideal level of arousal than a defensive lineman trying to rush the passer.  Within baseball, a starting pitcher looking to throw 7 quality innings may not find it effective to play at a "10."  A closer, on the other hand, may want to be at a "10" to air it out for twenty pitches for the final three outs of a game.

While there are mixed opinions about the concept of the Inverted U in sport psychology, I really like the concept of self-awareness it addresses.  Knowing how you feel and act when you are performing your best is something anyone can benefit from who is looking to achieve that peak performance on a more regular basis.  Gary Mack, in his book Mind Gym, discusses how he wanted athletes to "know their numbers."  The idea is for you to reflect on how you feel during your best performances so that you are better able to be in control of yourself before and during competition.  Are you a 5?  Are you a 7?  Are you a 10?  What does that feel like?  What are you doing?  Then, reflect on what happens when you are too low or too high?  When you are low, do you find yourself drifting off?  Are you lackadaisical?  When you are too high, does your mind start to race?  Do you lose control of your breathing?  All of these are questions to consider if you want to play your best on a consistent level.  Being aware of physical behaviors and how you feel are both important.

What I would challenge you to do is reflect to "Know your numbers."  If you are a 5, then this may have an effect on what you do before games.  You probably shouldn't be listening to scream metal that makes you want to run through a wall.  If you are an 8 or 9, a nap during the other team's BP may not be ideal for you.  If you like to be at a 7 and are a pinch-hitter, you may want to do something in between innings to keep yourself moving and the blood flowing.  Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to go from a 2 to a 7 within a minute or two as the coach calls on you to hit.  If you are a 6 and find your mind racing while on the mound, it may be a good time for a deep breath or the use of a focal point to refocus and get back to the present moment.

In closing, this is extremely beneficial for coaches to know about players as well.  Understanding that everyone is different may involve being okay with guys preparing in their own ways for competition.  This is tough for us baseball guys.  We are so regimented by nature in how we think as coaches.  Is "our way" more important than the most effective way is something to consider?  Also, knowing a player's number can help us with finding warning signs during a game if we see them slipping too low or going to high.  Knowing your number as a coach can be very helpful as well.  Understand what happens when you are too high or too low and how that may affect your team's performance.  The Inverted U is ultimately another great tool for self-reflection and understanding who you are as a competitor.  The more consistent our behavior, the more consistent our performance.  Controlling what we can is essential for both.  As always, please let me know any questions or feedback you may have at all!

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