GAA: Dublin – The Over Arousal Factor

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It’s the Leinster Football Final and Dublin are hosting Laois at Croke Park. It’s an even game when suddenly Dublin score two goals in as many minutes to knock the stuffing out of Laois. After the first goal, Dublin forward Mark Vaughan begins taunting the Laois defender Darren Rooney in an aggressive ‘in your face’ manner. Later on in the game two more Dublin players, Alan Brogan and Kevin Bonner indulge in further taunting of the defeated Laois players.

”You try playing in front of 82,000 people in a Leinster Final” is the response from Dublin’s 1995 All-Ireland winning senior footballer Jason Sherlock in response to the chorus of disapproval this boasting provokes.

It’s a fascinating response. Dublin have a strong backroom team of fourteen. A specialist for every aspect of the game. Including the mental game. Yet despite all this personal attention, they still become over-aroused, as it is known in sports psychology parlance,

For a classic example of ‘over-arousal’ think of Paul Gascoigne in the 1991 Cup Final. Pumped up beyond reason Gazza launched into a reckless tackle on Forest’s Gary Charles that was to put him out of the final with cruciate ligament damage.

Over arousal is an example of a players emotions getting the better of them. The emotions have become too loaded. It causes a player to over-react to situations. Get too involved. Take things personally. It can pump up the crowd. Build momentum. But it’s charged with danger. There is too much adrenalin coursing through the veins. It leads to impulsive behaviour. The heart has taken over the mind.

So the Laois defence may well be winding up Mark Vaughan. Attempting to get into his head. Lose his concentration. Make a mistake. And now Vaughan wants to give it back to them. Full on. Nothing held back. Defend his manhood. It might make Vaughan feel good. But it doesn’t look good. It doesn’t show respect for the opposition. And more importantly, it doesn’t show respect for the game.

Lack of respect for the game means that the game will not serve you well, whenever you most need it…e.g. lucky breaks…decisions…turning moments in the game will go against you. Maybe not next week, but soon enough. of that you can be certain. It’s the law of the game.

The correct mental / emotional balance is passion from the heart and coolness from the mind. The correct response is to turn round and channel the anger into points. Coolly and clinically. A professional response.

But, of course, in sport the correct response is not always possible. That’s something for the mental game experts to work with the players on.