Energy Management: Part 2
Posted by: Kamille Larrabee | University of Denver Sport Psychology
Welcome back to another month of energy management! As everything in the world begins to shift back to “normal” we decided to build on last month’s energy management skills by bringing you some skills that are more related to performance. Last month we covered a variety of skills that are applicable in everyday life and this month we really wanted to focus in on specific skills that can help you or your athlete before, during, or after practices and competitions.
There are a few main theories that focus on energy management in relation to performance. One of the theories that was popular for a long time is the inverted U principle, this basically states that as energy level increases so does performance, until a certain point then performance decreases. This is a really great starting point when talking about energy level and performance. Another theory that is fairly common is the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning theory. The general idea is that each individual athlete will perform at their best at different energy levels and the energy level will most likely differ between skills as well. As seen in the chart below.
- Think about this: Would you like the same level of energy when chasing down an opposing player to stop them from scoring as when you’re trying to make a penalty kick? Most likely not, you’d want a higher energy level that allows you to move faster for the chase, and, when executing a penalty kick, you’d most likely want a lower level of energy that allows you to be focused and precise, then powerful.
Think back to a time, before a game, presentation, or test, where you were really nervous. First, how did your body feel? Second, what did you say to yourself?
Pre-performance anxiety is pretty common in athletes and it varies in severity. Learning to control your energy levels can help reduce your pre-performance anxiety. Pre-performance anxiety can look like: sweaty or clammy hands, increased heart rate and breathing, butterflies in your stomach, or restlessness. Pre-performance anxiety can also come with an increase of negative thoughts or feeings about your performance or making excuses for why you won’t perform well.
- Food for thought: When you look at all of those symptoms for pre-performance anxiety, think about a similar list of symptoms but for a completely different feeling: Excitement. These two emotions feel physiologically the same just with a different emotion around them. When you feel nervous, try and reframe your thoughts about your upcoming game.
- Instead of: “I’m so nervous for this upcoming game”
- Try: “I am so excited to go play and show off my skills”
Practice v. Performance
Most of the talk around energy management is attempting to calm ourselves down before or during competitions. One part that is also important to think about is how to pump yourself up and increase your energy levels when you’re just not feeling it that day. Often times this need for an increase in energy level comes at practices.
- Reflect: Think back to a time when you showed up for school, work, or practice when you were feeling tired, sluggish, and unmotivated to be there.
It’s hard to perform at your best if you’re at too low of an energy level! No, you don’t need a caffeine fix, but you can do different things to generate energy and pump yourself up. You can listen to music, take extra time getting warmed up to make sure your heart is really pumping, or play a fun game with a teammate to get moving and get excited.
What Can You Do?
Now that we know all about energy management, how do we control it? We control it by TAP-ping into our mental skills. We have created an acronym to help you remember some mental skills that can help increase or decrease your energy level anywhere, at any time. T represents tactical breathing exercises, A represents an activation regulation plan, and P represents processing.
Tactical breathing exercise:
- Breathing is a really simple and great way to get control over your energy level. It allows you to check in with yourself and evaluate what you need, then get you where you need to be.
- When doing breathing exercises, you want to take deep breaths; you want to breath from your diaphragm and feel the breath all the way in your belly. A good way to ensure you’re breathing from your belly is by doing your breathing exercise standing, sitting, or lying in a comfortable position with one hand on your belly and one on your chest. When you inhale, try and push out with your belly so that the hand placed there moves, while the hand on your chest stays still.
- Pace your breaths by counting very slowly on your inhale and exhale (one one thousand…two one thousand).
- For this particular exercise, if you want to raise your heart rate to elevate your energy levels, breath in for four seconds and out for two second, making exhale much faster.
- Now to lower your heart rate breathe in for four seconds and out for six seconds. Keeping the breath slow on the way out reduces the heart rate. Keep in mind these are just suggestions, you can make slight changes to the time frame as long as there is still a significant difference in the time in and time out.
Activation Regulation Plan
Activation regulation plans are a really good way of allowing yourself to feel in control going in to any performance, especially for those who get pre-performance anxiety. Activation regulation plans lay out exercises that an athlete can do both before and during games to keep recognize and adjust their energy levels.
Pre-performance activation regulation plans should include:
- A pre-performance routine that gets you to the energy level you need to perform your best
- A plan for if your energy level is too low
- A plan for if your energy level is too high
Mid-performance activation regulation plan should include:
- A very quick strategy to decrease or increase energy level
These plans can include physical actions or self-talk exercises. When creating these plans, it’s important to think about things that are possible before and during competitions. Especially for the mid-competition routines during fast paced games, you should also brainstorm different times during the games you could realistically check-in with yourself.
What is processing? Processing is any form of thinking or reflecting on a particular event (like a game or practice). Processing can happen in many different ways from ranging from very formal, like the activation regulation plan mentioned above, to just chatting with your coach or a teammate after a game. The goal of processing is to bring awareness to how you were feeling or what you were thinking during a certain situation.
Processing is an important part of learning any mental skill and can be incredibly beneficial while getting control over your energy level. The first part of processing is to identify your ideal energy level during your performance, you might not know this right away and it could change depending on the game situation or task being performed. This is why reflecting on different situations and understanding how you feel is important to performing at your best. One of the best ways to figure out your ideal energy level is to practice at different energy levels and see where you feel the most focused and perform your best.
For instance, when processing through your activation regulation plan, here are some good things to ask yourself, your parents, your coaches, or your teammates:
- What have I done in the past that has or hasn’t worked for me?
- How did I feel after (insert exercise)? Did it accomplish what I wanted it to?
- Did I feel a change? How did this change impact my performance?
- How readily available were these exercises?
- Did coaches or teammates notice a difference in my demeanor or performance?
Another way to process is through a performance journal that you write in after practices and games, some good starting prompts are: What went well? What’s worth improving? Then elaborate on your plan from there. This also gives you a list of things that have worked for you in the past as well as things that haven’t.
Summing It Up
A recap as we wrap up our segment on energy management:
- Every athlete is different! What works for your teammates, friends, or siblings might not work for you, and that’s okay!
- Pre-game jitters are good; just remember to keep working toward achieving the pre-game energy level that allows you to perform at your best.
- TAP-ping into your energy management skills is a great place to start!
- These skills take time; be patient with yourself as you learn new things and create new routines. You won’t be perfect at first, but you’ll be happy you stuck with it!
As always we appreciate you taking the time out of your busy lives to work on your mental skills. We hope everyone continues to stay safe as we continue to navigate through this time and we look forward to seeing you on the field as soon as possible!
CPEX would like to give its support and gratitude to all health care professionals and essential workers during this time. We look forward to getting back on the field with you all this summer and fall. Thank you for reading and keep an eye out for next month’s blog! Stay safe and stay healthy!