Having high arousal levels (or being nervous) during competition is both good and bad. When you’re nervous, chemicals are released in the body to heighten awareness and decrease pain threshold. This response is also accompanied by a decrease in fine motor skill, decision making ability and reaction time. For some athletes, having high arousal levels can be detrimental to performance, but for others, it can be helpful…
A gross motor skill can be described as large muscle groups working together to help create coordination. There are gross motor skills that require a lot of hand-eye coordination (Quarterback) and gross motor skills that require little to no hand-eye coordination (Long jumper). Also, there are two types of competitive environments an athlete will encounter. The first is an open environment, which means your sport activity is unpredictable and an opponent will most likely be present. The second is a closed environment, which means you can easily predict what will happen and no opponent will be present. Both scenarios require different arousal levels to maximize performance.
If you have high arousal levels for a gross motor skill that doesn’t require a lot of hand-eye coordination in a predictable environment, it’s typically an advantage. If you have high arousal levels for a gross motor skill that DOES require a lot of hand-eye coordination in an unpredictable environment, it is a disadvantage. When a kicker misses a game winning field goal or a shooter misses a crucial free throw, it can be assumed they got psyched out and their arousal levels became too high. The opposite can be said for a long jumper or Olympic lifter. If they don’t “charged up” and allow arousal levels to run free, they won’t be as successful.
In closing, it is up to the athlete to determine the type of hand-eye coordination requirements for their sport and the type of environment they compete in. These two factors will ultimately determine if they should get “charged up” or try their best to keep cool.