A tale of two teams – physical and psychological activation


coaches corner

Team One: The 2018 Volleyball Nationals

There was a very good 18-year-old volleyball team loaded with talent. Two of the players were identified as being in the top 24 high school players in the country and went on to GREAT things in Division 1 programs.

This team always got off to a slow start. A normal tournament match would begin with a first set loss. In the second set, they would come from behind when the score was in the neighborhood of 15 to 5, and win. In the third set, they would ride the momentum and usually win the set and the match. They relied on talent to pull it out, time and time again. In the National Tournament, when they played the top 18’s teams in the country, they didn’t fare well. They weren’t able to overcome the slow starts against great teams.

The problem with these ladies is they were under activated. Their coach was laid back and hands off, they warmed up with very little intensity and they hit the court cold. By the start of the second match, they were warmed up physically and mentally and were ready to play. Being behind motivated them to their optimal level of arousal, but at the national level it wasn’t enough.

Imagine if they had understood activation, the Inverted U, and were physically and psychologically ready at the first serve! Had they understood that starting with the right heart rate, the right thoughts, and the right focus would inspire their best performance, they might have been able to compete at the highest level.

Team Two: The 2018 Texas High School Volleyball Playoffs

There was another great volleyball team competing to go to their high school state tournament. They were playing a team that was ranked number one in the nation. The venue was packed with thousands of people; it was loud and hostile. They were playing a team that was ranked number one in the country, but they had beaten them earlier in the season and matched up very well. They too were in the top ten in the country, in fact.

The hype of the big game and the raucous environment affected them. They were visibly over activated, flustered and out of sorts. The over excitement and extra pressure caused them to play tight, press, and panic during rallies. Imagine if they had understood how to manage their activation and the Inverted U.

What if they had been able to stay focused on routine, manage emotion and breathe, to reduce their activation levels? They might have competed the next week in the state finals. Instead, they lost in three straight sets in an embarrassing way.

An interesting connection between the over activated team, and the the under activated one is that there were several players common to each of those teams. The first example, The Nationals, was from club season. The second example, The Playoffs, was from the high school season. The same players (some of the highest ranked in the country) were victims of both over and under activation on different teams, in different situations.

Calling up and maintaining the optimal level of activation every time, in every situation, is a trainable skill. Thinking and feeling can be managed in a way that facilitates peak performance. An athlete will be better able to focus, be present, and perform consistently in any situation.

Reach out… ask me about the managing activation and “The Inverted U.”

I’m Dr. J., the “Chief Inspiration Officer” at Mind Right Performance. I work with athletes, parents, coaches and organizations at all levels of sports to develop them mental game using sport psychology. I do this face-to-face (or ZOOM), through this blog, and through my online training academy for athletes and parents.


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