Written by Dr. Scott Silverman Friday, 09 October 2009 00:00
We have all seen athletes who lose their composure. It’s safe to say with the exception of a John McEnroe or a few others, anger does little to help one’s performance. For many athletes controlling emotions are a difficult task. Take the pitcher who throws at a batter’s head, the hockey player who draws a senseless penalty or the football player who gets unnecessary roughness calls. All in all, controlling one’s emotions can prove valuable in one’s athletic performance.
Controlling your emotions begins with a deliberate decision to keep composure and emotional restraint at all times. You should be very mindful of your feelings in every situation whether it is euphoric or sorrowful. You should avoid the belief that people are entitled to lose control in special occasions or that people have the right to let out their emotions in specific circumstances. You should stop adhering to the belief that athletes are just humans that are entitled to lose composure.
In attempting to obtain emotional control the athlete should understand that emotion is actually dependent on one’s behavior and not the other way around. To put it simply, you feel sad because you realize that you are frowning, contrary to the popular notion that you frown because you realize that you are sad. In social psychology, it has been discovered behavior influences emotions, and not the other way around. Therefore, a 20-yard roughing the passer penalty can set a lineman off into major anger. With this key information at hand, you are empowered with the ability to influence feelings by modifying behavior.
A common cause of emotional outbursts is having problems. Oftentimes, when people are faced with difficulties, they react by panicking or by being angry. However, these are not solutions to the initial problem - they are sources of problems themselves. When you are in a state of panic or in a fit of anger, your mind is clouded with emotions so that the situation is not seen clearly. This does make it harder to think of concrete solutions to the problem being dealt with. Whenever a problem comes, instead of immediately throwing tantrums or pacing restlessly, you should stop, breathe, and evaluate the entirety of the circumstance. This way, the problem can be viewed in a clearer perspective, and solutions may be thought out more logically. For example, if you strike out in baseball or softball, go directly to the bench, take a deep breath and use previously discussed visualization skills to see what needs to be corrected.
One very valuable tool in emotional control is the ability to pause. While there are no pause and play buttons in real life, people have the capability to stop themselves, and take a break in certain situations that usually cause emotional outbursts. Before shouting and screaming out of a disappointing occurrence, you should first take a break to think and reflect. Pausing in itself is a form of emotional control. At this point, you can think if letting go of the emotions is indeed necessary. You should also think of the consequences that the emotional explosion would entail. If the emotions involved in the situation are too strong to withhold, you can think of reasonable emotional expressions such as clenching your teeth instead of screaming when you are upset, or smiling instead of jumping around when you are elated.
The problem with most people who are unable to control their emotions is that they dwell too much on the present situation. It is undeniable that the height of emotions experienced in certain circumstances could be overwhelming. However, these are also the times when you are vulnerable to do things that you might regret later on. To avoid this, it is important to examine how things would go in the future.
Emotional control is indeed difficult to master. But with will power and determination, it can be achieved. You just have to be aware that emotions do not really have the power to overcome people. On the contrary, people have the ability to watch over their emotions and control them to what they think is necessary.
Dr. Silverman is the districtwide athletic coordinator for Glen Cove schools. He has a degree in sport and exercise psychology from Boston University. He has worked with high school to professional athletes on performance enhancement and has appeared on a number of sports programs discussing the topic of youth sports. He has a passion for making athletics the best possible experience it can be for all young athletes, as well as ensuring all youth have an opportunity to use sport as a learning tool about life and health. Dr. Silverman is a fitness buff who still is an avid ice hockey player.