Anger and Performance: Sport Psychology Techniques for dealing with extreme emotions

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power, and is not easy.” —Aristotle

An essential element of sport psychology is dealing with the emotions that come with competitive athletics. Whether you are an athlete, a coach, a referee, a parent, or a fan, the higher the level of competition, the higher the emotional level can become. And the higher the emotional level, the more important it becomes to control and manage those emotions.

One exercise I lead my athletes through is to identify which emotions help their performance and which emotions hurt their performance. For a vast majority of my clients, there are more emotions that negatively affect how they play than positively affect. This awareness is key to developing strategies to handle the negative emotions, and even use them for your benefit.

There are some emotions that athletes identify that sometimes help and sometimes hurt their performance. Among them: aggressiveness, caution, stubbornness, and surprise. But by far, the most common is anger.

Athletes describe it this way: “Sometimes I get angry and it makes me focus and play better. Sometimes I get angry and it makes me play erratic and out of control.”

That is important information to know, and to come up with a plan to make sure you harness your anger for positive, instead of letting the anger control you and your actions. If we take Aristotle’s quote above, let’s examine these questions:

Who Are You Angry With?
This is a big factor in whether anger is good or bad for performance. Typically, if the anger is directed inward, towards yourself, that could result in higher work rate and focus if positive self-talk is employed. Or, it could result in lower work rate and withdrawing from the game if self-talk is more negative. That being said, athletes need to use positive self-talk.

If you are angry at someone else — opponent, referee, coach, etc. — that rarely works in your favor. This typically leads to lack of effort and to reckless and unsportsmanlike behavior. Athletes should be able to re-focus their anger away from someone who is not in their control and toward something positive, and controllable.

To What Degree Are You Angry?

Are you just a little mad, or do you become irate or enraged. The difference being how in control of the emotion you are. Being enraged could mean the anger is too intense, and can control you. Athletes can use positive self-talk and circle breathing as a way to calm their emotions to manageable levels.

When Do You Become Angry?
Is it after a mistake, a perceived bad call, or an opponent talking trash? Know yourself and your tendencies, and the situations in which you are likely to become angry. Having a pre-performance routine to prepare is a very helpful sport-psychology tool.

Why Are You Angry?
Typically, it is because you are focused on the wrong thing. You are focused on something you cannot control. Mentally tough athletes focus on the controllable aspects as much as possible, and have tools to re-focus when they get distracted.

How Do You Handle Your Anger?
The question may not be: “Will you get angry?” More likely, “How will you handle yourself when you get angry?” Using sport-psychology techniques that you have practiced and honed until they become second nature is the way to go. Here are the sport psychology techniques that I have mentioned above:

Pre-Performance Routines
This is a mental warm-up, with action items for athletes to check off before starting practice or competition. It can include going over goals, visualization, positive self-talk, listening to music, and more. The goals are to clear the mind of distractions and to perform with a positive mindset and confidence.

Positive Self-Talk
Also referred to as “self-coaching,” this technique is a way for athletes to look at any situation in a positive light. Athletes can coach themselves up by focusing on the right things, being optimistic, and circle breathing — one of the simplest and effective sport-psychology techniques. This is a slow, deep, controlled breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. It is a way to calm your mind, body and emotions, so that you can make good decisions.

Re-Focus on What You Can Control
You can control attitude, effort, preparation, and the present moment. These are factors that sports participants have 100 percent control over, and are less likely to be stressed or let anger turn negative. The ability to re-focus your attention to the right thing at the right time is a key element in controlling anger.

About the Author

Brian Baxter is the director of the Sport Psychology Institute Northwest in Portland and a prior US Lacrosse Convention (LaxCon) speaker.

https://www.uslacrosse.org/blog/anger-and-performance-sport-psychology-techniques-for-dealing-with-extreme-emotions

Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1)

Developing a High Performance Lifestyle (part 1 – avoiding burnout)
By Jimmy Yoo, MA Sport Psychology
  

As a mental skills coach at SPINw, I help athletes attain a consistent high performance mindset through sport psychology techniques like focus, goal setting, visualization.  A high performance mindset is not something that is turned on one minute and off the next.  It is more consistent than that.  Therefore, I help athletes dedicate everyday to a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.  Lifestyle can be defined as “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.” It’s basically your habits – how you do things under pressure.

Some of my athletes are professionals, who make a living at playing sports.  But most are only part-time athletes, who are also students, parents, performing artists, doctors, teachers, etc., and often many of these.  It’s good to bring your “A-Game” everyday – not necessarily that you will win every time at everything, but that you consistently perform at a high level.  Anyone can benefit from developing a high performance lifestyle, both on and off the field.

This doesn’t mean perfection: that in every moment of your life, you are competing to be the best at everything you do, like being being the best student, athlete, or employee at all times.  This type of focus is not ideal because you are constantly comparing yourself to others.  This type of focus is out of your control. If you are too focused on comparing yourself to others, being the best, being perfect, you are not focusing on the necessary skills and strategies to effectively perform the task at hand.  To achieve a high performance mindset each day, it is important to focus on the little things that help you in the present moment or on the things that you are able to control right now.

As a professional ___________________(fill in your job here), it is easy to move from one task to the next without stopping or taking a break.  There can be a tendency to concentrate and stay focused on things till we become mentally and physically exhausted.  As a result, habit becomes “work till I can’t work anymore” or work till my body forces me to take a break, like when you just fall asleep doing a simple task.  The more this happens, the more risk of experiencing burnout. To prevent this, I work with athletes on comprehensive goal setting plans that include “planned breaks” as an essential part of high performance over the long run.

Burnout can cause us to react with negative emotional responses.  For example, a director of a non-profit that I work with recognized she was experiencing burnout and decided it was time to talk to someone about it.  For purposes of confidentiality, I will call this person Josie.  Josie was a former collegiate athlete and still liked to play sports as a means to stay active.  For the past four months, Josie had not been able to play sports or even find time to exercise due to the demands she had at work.  Her goal was to find a way to get back into playing sports and exercising.

When we met, she mentioned that she was experiencing emotional highs and lows that would result in her snapping at employees when they did not perform a task to her expectations, or making sarcastic remarks to customers that she felt were being rude and obnoxious.  She was also feeling angry and sad because she did not feel supported by her boss and others in her life, like family and friends.  She knew she was experiencing burnout, but did not know how to change things.

During one of our sessions, Josie came in feeling really angry.  She stated that she really hated her co-workers that smoked.  She felt as though they were always leaving the office to go outside and take a smoke break.  Even worse, she hated the fact that there were two or three of them that would always leave together to have a cigarette.  In that discussion, she recognized that she wasn’t mad at them, she was actually jealous of them because they were able to take time, be it every hour or every few hours to take a break, talk with colleagues, and just get out of the office to get some fresh air.  While she had no desire to start smoking cigarettes, she decided it was time that she started taking “Cigarettes Breaks” of her own.  She made it an expectation to take a 10-15 minute break every few hours, and do something active like take a walk in the building or outside depending on the weather, or just go talk to a colleague and keep the conversation to things not related to work.  She also made it a point to physically leave her desk to eat lunch.  She found that leaving her mobile phone at her desk, as well, made it more of an enjoyable lunchtime because she could either eat peacefully by herself or spend time with co-workers, just talking to them rather than texting or looking at things on her phone.

Josie admits that forcing herself to take a lunch break and frequent breaks throughout the day was extremely challenging.  But, once she was able to do it, she started to feel less stressed and more energetic at work.  This small shift to her daily routine also helped motivate her to leave work at a reasonable time so that she could start playing sports again.  In the end, Josie realized that making small changes to her day helped her to find more balance in her life, which in turn, allowed her to develop her high performance lifestyle.

Like Josie, you can also take a step toward developing a high performance lifestyle by identify things that you can different each day, like getting more sleep at night, eating better, taking breaks, and finding a life balance of work, exercise, personal relationships, recreational activities, and just taking time to unplug from technology so that you can enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.  Taking the first step is always challenging, so if you need some extra support, find a buddy that you can start doing things with, or schedule a session with us at SPINw!

Top Waterskiier uses The Sports Mindset Gameplan to reach his goals

DID YOU KNOW ONE OF THE NATION’S TOP WATER SKIERS LIVES IN HILLSBORO… AND HE’S IN HIS 60’s?

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Tom Carey credits SPINw book with helping him become a top 10 slalom water skier in the US

January  22, 2016, Portland, OR . . . It’s not often that a $20 book can transform your life, career and propel you to the top of national rankings in a sport. But for champion water skier and Oregonian Tom Carey, that’s exactly what reading “The Sports Mindset Gameplan” did for him. An athlete since the age of five, Carey had competed in various sports, and at age 60, he decided to take a different tack for competing at the 2014 U.S. National Water Ski Championships. Although he was always ambitious, he had never gotten the results he wanted while competing at the annual championships. This year, he committed to doing more than showing up.

The winter before the competition, a few copies of “The Sports Mindset Gameplan” showed up at his Beaverton facility Bio Force Youth Fitness. He grabbed on and went through it in meticulous detail, page by page, using it as his workbook. By the end, his goal was set to place in the top 10. And so, at the age of 60, when most people are seriously settling in to the thought of retirement, Carey competed and emerged in 6th place in the men’s slalom event.

“The Sports Mindset Gameplan,” written by Portland sports psychology consultant and SPINw director Brian Baxter, MA. It’s an interactive workbook designed for all athletes, from beginning to recreational to elite, and puts the mental focus back into physical training and performance.

“This is exactly what we had hoped the book would do—to transform good athletes into great ones, simply by taking the necessary steps of asking yourself the right questions and propelling people to strengthen their mental focus and goals and to make the most of their sporting experience.”

Said Carey: “Although the book speaks a lot about team sports, I was amazed that it’s also great to use for individual sports like water skiing. I had the motivation and ambition to win—this book helped me put the proper steps in place to set my sights on achieving my goal to be in the top 10.”

So what’s next for Carey? Place in the top three? Different competitions or open the playing field to international competition?

“That’s a great question,” Carey says. “I’m relying on Brian to help me flesh out my next steps and goals. Now having read and worked through the book, I have ultimate faith in what the SPINw team says, and now I just need to get those goals in focus.”

It’s 90% Mental! Workshop on February 28, 2016

Come join us at Evolution Healthcare and Fitness in SE Portland on February 28th at 5pm for a mental game workshop.
(Click here to register)

How many times have you heard someone tell you what a huge component the mental game is in your particular sport? Well, they were right!

You spend hours each week training your body to perform at it’s highest level. But how do you prepare your mind? The mental game often separates the good athletes from the great ones, and the great ones from the elite. This workshop will address confidence, mental toughness, focus, and more, to help you perform up to your potential when the pressure is on.

As the Director of SPINw here in Portland, Brian works with athletes and teams of all ages and skills levels on the mental game. He is excited to bring these sport psychology techniques to the athletes at Evolution! Copies of his workbook for athletes, The Sports Mindset Gameplan, will be available at a discounted rate to participants.
(Click here to register)

How Can Coaches help players out of a slump?

I do a regular interview with Michael Austin from Basketball Coach Weekly. Coaches often ask me about team motivation techniques, and what sport psychology skills they can use with their athletes.  In this most recent interview, (which I particularly enjoyed) I address the answer to those questions in terms of how coaches can spot and help correct a player who is in a slump.  Check it out!

Sport Psychology Portland Basketball weekly positive

Sport Psychology Interview with Isaac Byrd

Recently I was interviewed by ex-NFL player Isaac Byrd on his Unlocking the Minds of Athletes podcast.  Isaac does great job interviewing professionals in the field, and I was honored to be a part of it.

Check it out here.

Quote: Henry Ford…Anything being possible

2 things to listen for: 1st, Brian talks about the importance of having awareness that a strong mentality is just as important as a strong body and 2nd, he mentions 3 key components to be aware of that will immediately help your mental-game.

Scenario: He details certain techniques athletes can use to keep a strong and positive mindset when dealing with a major injury.

Training Round: He talks about a technique he teaches his athletes called ‘Filtered Listening’ and he goes into great detail about what that is and how you can use it in any sport.

Brian Baxter sport psychology Portland interview

Is there a ‘sixth sense’ in sports?

No, not a sixth sense of being able to see dead people like in the movie…

but more like this dictionary.com definition:

sixth sense – noun
a power of perception beyond the five senses; intuition:
“His sixth sense warned him to be cautious.

As an athlete or a coach, do you ever have a feeling that you know what’s going to happen next?  Or after something has happened, thinking “I knew that was going to happen!”  Do you ever make decisions based on a “gut feeling?”  That’s the kind of sixth sense I am talking about. It’s more about seeing things before they happen.

Here’s another way to look at “sense.”  If something “makes sense,” we are talking about this definition:

a sane and realistic attitude to situations and problems; a reasonable or comprehensible rationale.

But sometimes sports makes no sense. How else to explain upsets, chokes, and record-breaking performances?  Those “wow!” moments like Kirk Gibson’s homerun, David Tyree’s “helmet catch,” or Tim Tebow winning an NFL playoff game (kidding, I’m a big Gator fan, so I can go there)?

So what exactly is the sixth sense of sports?  Belief, Confidence, Anticipation, Intuition, Trust, Faith? A combination of these?  And can it be developed?

We think so.

Let’s take a look at some other “Senses” – Sense of humor, sense of balance, sense of fairness

Like these, the sixth sense in sports, well, makes no “sense.”  Sense of humor is just that – a sense of what’s funny. It’s not all the same for all people and there is definitely no formula to it.  Jerry Seinfeld has a certain sense of humor, and so does Adam Carolla.  Both are very funny, but in different senses. But these senses can be developed – timing, observation, studying, practicing, and of course, experience can all help.

Sport psychology techniques to help grow your “Sixth Sense of Sports”

1) Circle Breathing – part of sensing what’s coming next is being fully present in the moment. Circle breathing is a slow, deep, controlled breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  It is used to relax, calm, and re-focus.  Try it now, take 3 circle breaths………   What were you thinking about? For most people, the answer is “nothing.” It clears your mind to be more in-tune with the present moment.  As a professor I had, Betty Wenz, once said, “It’s impossible to simultaneously focus on breathing and worry.”

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2) Positive Self-Talk – being an optimist, and controlling your self-talk is big time to develop a sixth sense.  For things to go your way, you need to have a mindset that is open to any possibility. When your mind is open, you are more likely to take opportunities that present themselves, no matter how unlikely.
Positive Mindset - SMG quote

3) Visualization – Using this sport psychology technique helps to build what I refer to as “emotional memory.”  We all know muscle memory – when you practice at a skill so much that your muscles remember the movements.  Emotional memory is when you have practiced, re-lived or felt the experience of success so much that you remember what it feels like.

When most people think of visualization, they think of, well, vision – seeing plays in your mind’s eye.  But it’s a little more than that: proper visualization uses all 5 sesnse: sight, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. The sum of all these senses creates not only a full experience mentally, but can bring up all the emotions mentioned previously: belief, trust, anticipation, calmness, and more.  It becomes more than the sum of the 5 senses to help create and strengthen your “sixth sense.”

 

Post Race Blues

*This article was recently published in the Portland Triathlon Club Newsletter*

For endurance athletes, the mental game is as important, if not more so, than the physical game for competition. A strong mental game gives the athlete the best chance to succeed before the race starts, and during the race itself. Sports psychology includes having a good pre-race routine, implementing strategies for how to handle the ups and downs of a race – the pain, and the rigors of competition, and strategies for winning the battle in the athlete’s mind – the battle between all the reasons to quit, versus all the reasons to keep going.

But there can also be a potential post-race psychological competent too. Known most commonly as “post-race depression”, it is less frequent of an issue as the pre-race or during race issues, but no less difficult to deal with. Post-race depression is a build up of focus, concentration, sacrifice, hard-work, and anticipation that has a very abrupt end. It can be mentally and emotionally draining. Physical changes include hormone and chemistry changes. All of this can make an athlete wonder “what is going on?!”

It’s important to know that post race depression is pretty normal! We sometimes experience let downs after big events, and it can be part of the process. While the experience of these emotions are normal, that doesn’t make it any less comfortable. Here are some sport psychology techniques that can help soften the blow:

Goal Setting – Goal setting, when done correctly, is a continuous process. It does not end with the A-race, or the end of a season. There is a logical next step to focus on when done. After a big race, athletes can plan on a fun run or event to shift focus to.

Journaling – Many endurance athletes keep a training log. Adding a mental game journaling component can help athletes find the positives after a big race. I suggest journaling one negative, two positives, and one way to improve in the future.

Support system – Make sure you have someone you can talk to who understands what you’re going through, and can help you take your mind off of it.

Overall, the mental game is about knowing what could go wrong, and planning for it. That includes not only a pre-race routine, and during the race mantras, but also planning for what’s next after the big race is over.

Brian Baxter, MA is the Director of Sport Psychology Institute Northwest in Portland, OR. He and his colleagues improve enjoyment and athletic performance for athletes. They work directly with athletes, teams, coaches, and organizations and are accepting new clients. 

 

 

Book Review: Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow

Football season is underway, and as part of our book review series, SPINw suggest you check out this inspiring book, Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow.  It’s not common for a 23 year old to write an autobiography, but then again, he is not your common athlete.  Tebow is one mentally tough athlete – see how his goals, attitude, and work-rate led him to the NFL.  He may be considered third string at the moment, but after reading this book, it’s hard to doubt he’ll eventually win the starting job.

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Getting Tough in Golf and Baseball

The border between Dr. Pirozzolo’s baseball work and his golf work is remarkably fluid. “It really is all the same. It comes down to your ability to find the motor programs you need under pressure, by blocking out of all the distractions,” he told me this week. “As the competitions get bigger and bigger, like the World Series, or the Masters and the U.S. Open, there is more noise to deal with, white noise as well as meaningful challenges and threats. Mental toughness is clearly the key. The tougher you are, the easier it is to control your central nervous system and your peripheral nervous system, to control your stress response and make adaptations.”