Arousal, Motivation and Sprinting Performance – Research Paper Example

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The paper "Arousal, Motivation and Sprinting Performance" is an excellent example of a research paper on sports and recreation. In additional to inherent athletic abilities, sprinters’ performance on the track depends on their levels of arousal and motivation. This report is based on an investigation conducted on 5 sprinters, whose self-reported motivation was measured, and maximum heart rates recorded prior to the commencement of races. The Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) was used as a measurement of their arousal. The results of the investigation indicate that motivation and arousal and closely correlated and that the two are predictors of how a sprinter will perform on the track. In the end, the report recommends the use of a larger sample of athletes in future research.

Introduction

Athletic performance is often based on a combination of factors, which include the person’s motivation, which is psychological in nature and their physical abilities. Arousal and motivation are two distinct psychological aspects that according to Zackowitz (n.d.), affect how athletes such as sprinters perform in the field. In its most basic description, arousal is defined as a state of being energized or being ‘worked up’ (Apter, 1989, cited by Perkins, Wilson, and Kerr, 2001).  Motivation, on the other hand, is defined as the “internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to continually interested in and committed to a job, role, or subject and exert persistent effort in attaining a goal” (Businessdictionary.com, n.d). One of the internal motivation factors that sprinters can utilize to their benefit is the avoidance of poor performance. Naturally, no one likes to lose, since losers are deemed as failures in most societies. As Elliot (2005) observes, the fear to fail creates anxiety in athletes, and this arouses some form of adrenaline-driven energy whenever such an athlete is competing with others. Looking at the two definitions, there is an undeniable link between arousal, motivation and how sprinters perform. The underlying link in both arousal and motivation is energy; i.e. it would seem that an aroused and motivated sprinter would have more energy to perform on the athletic field.  One can hence hypothesize that sprinters need to be optimally aroused and motivated if they are to perform well in their athletic endeavors. This report aims to test the identified hypothesis, in order to prove if indeed arousal and motivation are necessary for the optimal performance of a sprinter.  The significance of the findings would specifically be important to individual sprinters and their coaches since they would understand the significance or lack thereof of optimal arousal and motivation in the sprinting performance.  In light of Elliot’s claim that sprinting needs a “burst of adrenalized energy” such as those that prepare the body for flight or fight, the subject is without a doubt worth investigation. Closely tied to the subject of arousal and motivation is the subject of anxiety, which according to Elliot (2005), impairs performance. There is little doubt that sprinters have some anxious moments when awaiting the start of a race. This then begs the question; does the anxiety affect their performance negatively or positively?

Method

Five voluntary sprinters aged 25 years will be used in this study. Before the commencement of the study, they will undertake athletic training specifically to condition them for sprinting. The sprinters will need to possess either extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Hence they must be willing to sprint for either intrinsic reasons such as personal pride, wanting to prove themselves better than the other participants through winning, or simply the will to become a winner. The participants could also participate in the sprint for extrinsic reasons such as financial rewards, winning a trophy, or getting recognition for winning. A self-reported questionnaire will be used to determine each sprinter’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivator.

For the experiment, a 50-meter running track, starting blocks and a stopwatch will be used. The sprinters will compete against each other, and will perform the sprint four times in two different days. Before commencing, each sprint, coaches assigned to each sprinter will remind them of the motivation behind their exercise. In the anxious moments before the start of the sprint, the MHR of each athlete will be recorded as a measure of their respective arousal in anticipation of starting the sprint. During data analysis, the performance of each individual sprinter will be compared against their recorded MHR and correlation or lack thereof drawn between the two measures.  Hence, the researcher will be able to relate the self-confessed motivation of each sprinter to the physiological aspects recorded about him and his performance.

Results

From the self-reported questionnaire, it was revealed that sprinters #1& #2 were motivated by financial rewards, while Sprinter #3 & #4 were motivated by recognition and the need to win trophies. Sprinter #5 was motivated by his averseness to failure. Their results are in all the four sprints are documented in table 1 below:

Table 1:

Sprinter

Sprint 1 (seconds)

Sprint 2 (seconds)

Sprint 3 (seconds)

Sprint 4 (seconds)

Average sprint time (seconds)

#1

6.5

6.3

6.2

6.2

6.3

#2

6.3

6.2

6.0

6.0

6.1

#3

6.9

6.7

6.7

6.7

7.5

#4

7.2

7.0

6.9

6.8

6.9

#5

6.4

6.3

6.2

6.1

6.2

The Sprinter’s maximum heart rates (MHR) were also recorded before the beginning of every race as a measure of their arousal. The results are as follows:

Table 2:

Sprinter

Sprint 1 (MHR)

Sprint 2 (MHR)

Sprint 3

(MHR)

Sprint 4

(MHR)

Average MHR

#1

179

180

182

183

181

#2

180

182

184

184

182.5

#3

170

172

172

172

171.5

#4

169

170

170

170

169.75

#5

180

180

182

183

181.25

Discussion and conclusion

It is generally presumed that aside from a sprinter’s inherent abilities, their performance is based on the extent of arousal and motivation (Brown et al, 2009; Rogerson & Hrycaiko, 2002; Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Notably, however, arousal and motivation are distinct factors, with a sprinter’s motivation determining the extent of arousal he is likely to have at the beginning of each race.

In the results above, each sprinter’s desire to win amidst the stiff competition acts as a source of stress, which their respective bodies react to by releasing adrenalin in what is known as a ‘fight-or fight’ response (Brown et al., 2009). In such cases, an athlete’s muscles relax in preparation for the physical exertion, his senses are more attuned to his surroundings; his pupils dilate to improve sight; and his heart rate increases in readiness as the blood circulates faster to supply muscles with oxygen (Elliot, 2005).  In this report, the latter is used as a measure for determining the sprinters’ arousal in readiness for the race. The MHR for an adult male involved in intensive sports such as sprinting is 195 MHR (Components of Fitness, n.d). This figure is derived from subtracting the athlete's age from 220 (Components of Fitness, n.d.).

Looking at the results in both tables, a trend is established in that sprinters who did the 50 meters stretch in the least time also recorded the highest MHR before the commencement of the race. The reverse is also true, in that sprinters who performed poorly on the track had registered lower MHR prior to the commencement of the race. A look at the motivators self-reported by the sprinters, one notices that those who had indicated that financial rewards were top performers, followed by the sprinter who indicated that he is averse to failure. At the bottom of the group were the two sprinters who had indicated that their motivation for sprinting was based on the need for recognition. If these results were to be taken on face value, one would, therefore, conclude that recognition is a poor motivator compared to financial incentives. Additionally, one would also argue that the need to win regardless of the monetary or non-monetary awards that one may receive is a relatively effective motivator in some athletes. 

The findings in this report correspond with other research findings by Perkins et al (2001, p. 257), where it is indicated that in “short-duration maximal motor activity, high positive felt arousal may be beneficial”.  The inclusion of verbal cues by coaches in order to motivate the sprinters were also found to correspond with findings by Williams and Harris (2006); Cashmore (2002); Vealey and Greenleaf (2006) and Cox (2002) who found that psyching the athletes using energising verbal cues could arouse and hence affect their performance on the track. In this case’s context, the effect of the verbal cues was closely tied with the motivators, since athletes who had financial motivators were more aroused than their counterparts who desired recognition. 

Considering the limited number of athletes involved in the research project, future research could involve a larger sample in order to determine if the results would be generalizable. Additionally, future research could use different techniques to measure the rate of arousal in the sampled athletes.

Overall, it is worth noting that this report has established a correlation between motivation, arousal and sprinter’s performance. Specifically, the more motivated a sprinter is, the higher his arousal before commencing the race, and this is likely to translate into higher performance on the track.



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