Maintaining Arousal at my First Competition

So last Sunday was my first competition back competing off full run. The Welsh Championships in Cardiff. Hopefully I’ve been able to upload a video of me below, clearing 5.10m. This was the highest I cleared that day. A few years ago I would’ve found it difficult to come away with this result being anything other than negative about how low I jumped, but now as I keep reiterating ad nauseum, I’m just happy to be back competing and staying relatively healthy. Clearing 5.10m also opened two doors for me, first it means I’ve jumped high enough to go to the British Indoor Championships, which should be an awesome competition and good opportunity to jump high, but its also the first of my two required ‘b’ standards to qualify for the Commonwealth Games this summer, half way there now.

So I haven’t worked out how to embed a video but you can view it here

There were other reasons I came away from this competition feeling positive, some of the relate to the process goals I set for myself (see last weeks blog), some relate to how well certain parts of my jump are going and some relate to how much room for improvement I still have. I’m drawing such a thick silver lining that the whole cloud is starting to look silver.

Learning Experience

One of the problems with having mixed abilities in one pole vault competition is the linear progressive nature of the competitions. The higher vaulters don’t get to jump at their bars until all the lower bars have been completed, this manifested itself on Sunday as a 3 and half hour wait after warm-up before I started competing. These sorts of situations don’t lend themselves to jumping personal bests, so the key is then to use them for another purpose, for me this became a practising the mental side of competing.

In the past I’ve had problems with state management, or maintaining an optimal arousal level (wahey!), and keeping proper focus throughout the competitions. The long wait after my warm-up allowed me a good opportunity to completely relax before turning my focus on again as I started to jump, an opportunity to practice going in and out of my arousal state.


Generallly speaking, arousal level against performance will follow your standard distribution, or bell curve, see the image below that I’ve unabashedly copied from google. Low arousal leading to poor performances, highly aroused leading to the same, and an optimal state lying somewhere in the middle.

Now this middle ground will change from person to person, and depend on the task at hand. A less technical skill, like squatting a heavy weight for instance will derive optimal performance from a higher level of arousal than something that requires a large technical and more complex task like say pole vaulting. Effectively the bell curve is shifted to the right for simpler tasks. If you don’t believe me go to youtube and watch some videos of world record attempts at squatting, those guys know how to get themselves aroused.

Application to the self

For me, I have always had a tendency to get over-excited. When I clear a bar in pole vault is one of the few times in life that I actually show my emotions. Screaming, jumping around and general over the top celebrations are my natural reaction, however, I’ve found that doing these seems to blow my emotional load and negatively affects my attempts at subsequent bars, if you watch the video above again you’ll see how I’m pretty pumped to clear the bar, but I’m still trying to maintain control over myself.

Now watch Renaud Lavillenie, the guy really loves clearing bars, and explodes with excitement with almost every clearance. If I acted like that I’d only ever clear my first bar. Now theres two variables at play here, obviously the first one is that he is not me, this means he’s a different person and will have a different optimal arousal level. The other is, he clearly has a better technical mastery of the event than I. Has he performed so many repetitions of his jump that the technically complex actions of the pole vault have become simple to him and thus necessitate the higher level of arousal that he exhibits?

Is this something to consider over the course of an athletes career? As they progress and have spent more years completing the same technique do this allow greater arousal on the runway?

The next competition

My next competition is actually tomorrow now, again in Cardiff, but this time with a more even standard of vaulters across the field, this means i have slightly different goals set out, which should hopefully lead to a higher bar jumped. And of course I want to stay healthy.

Thanks for reading


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