Optimal arousal is required for athletes to perform their best. Arousal is different to anxiety as it is a physiological response similar to getting excited before an event. Arousal is about getting ready for action and often causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as heightened neural activity. It is often referred to as, be being “in the zone” or “psyched up.” It is about waking your body up so that it is ready to perform. Arousal can be both positive and negative for performance, depending on the level and the type of performance.
High intensity contact sports have a higher optimal arousal level than low intensity non-contact sports. This means that a rugby league player requires a higher arousal level than an archer or gymnast. The rugby player will not perform as well if his arousal is not high enough, or is too high. This is the same for the archer; if her arousal levels are too high or low she will not perform as well. That is to say, there is an optimal arousal level, which is specific to each sport.
With respect to specific skills, the more difficult the skill (handstand) the lower the levels of arousal needed, while the easier the skill (catching a large ball) the higher the level of arousal. Under arousal is characterised by lethargy and a lack of motivation, while over arousal is characterised by an inability to focus. This optimal arousal level is often depicted as an inverted-U on a graph.