Controlling the “Controllables”: Emotions in Sports

Last month, we focused on exploring the concept of Controlling the Controllables and highlighted a number of aspects in sports, or life, that can be under each athletes control. This month, we thought it would be valuable to dive deeper into something that is frequently difficult for those in sport to control: EMOTIONS.

Participating in sports at any level can be a very emotional experience. Successes, setbacks, triumphs, failures, and a variety of challenges which are experienced throughout a game can provide a variety of emotional moments for parents, players, and coaches alike.  

Often these emotions can be very helpful, even those that may be considered negative like anger or fear IF we can control or manage them.  Anger or frustration can push us to work harder, but can also lead us to more mistakes and challenges. The key is recognizing the emotions, knowing what may trigger them, and being prepared to handle them. This is true for every participant whether on the field, or on the sidelines.

Research by Professor Marc Jones at Staffordshire University offered fascinating insight into how athletes can better manage their emotions when competing. Here are 10 tips to control emotions in sport based on his research which were provided in a recent blog by Inner Drive:

Another strategy from sports psychologists working with athletes, especially those who tend to dwell on mistakes, is the 3 R’s of Composure:

  • Recognize: That you are dwelling too much on your error and not focusing enough on how you will change or continue to play.
  • Regroup: Stop the negative thought or action. Force yourself to move past what happened in the last play, knowing that you can improve on the next one.
  • Refocus: Focus on what you will do next, perform with passion and confidence, and do it.

This is a strategy that parents and coaches can encourage their athletes to work on.

As for the parents and the coaches, it is critical that they explore how their ability (or lack of ability) to manage their emotions can impact the sports experience. If this is not your first time out, you probably have experienced high emotions at event before. Recognizing emotional triggers and having a plan can be key to a successful game day.  Consider what causes emotions to spike and determine actions you can take to manage them when they occur.

Here are a few tips for the adults at the game when things are getting a little tense:

  • Breath – take slow, deep breaths to regain composure in the moment.  Count to 4 when you inhale, pause, and count to 4 as you exhale.
  • Count to 10 – before you say anything, slowly count to 10 and consider how your words may be received 
  • Take a quick walk – go for a walk around the field or park
  • Move away – remove yourself from the group and give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts
  • Eat – bring gum, lollipops, or quick snacks to occupy yourself with.
  • Group Support System – when parents hear another parent reaching high emotion levels, it may be helpful to try diffusing the situation with more calming, positive suggestions or comments that may counter their negative ones.

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