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

Sport Psychology of Shot Put

SPINw Consultant Eric Bergreen was a national champion shot putter at UCLA. We recently asked him to comment on this article discussing Michelle Carter’s mental training. Here’s what he had to say:

As a former shot putter I was thrilled to see Chris Chavez of Sports Illustrated interview Michelle Carter

to discuss her success after the 2016 Olympic gold win. The shot put might not be glamorous to many

but it is far from “playing fetch with yourself.” To be the best you have to have great technical talent and

the ability to manage high pressure situations. I think you might agree that the Olympics is about as high

pressure as it gets for an athlete. Michelle Carter, daughter of Michael Carter, not only has tremendous

physicality in her genes, but understands the type of physical and mental training required to be her

best. In the interview she discusses utilizing a sport psychiatrist to help her learn how to max out her

mental strength. She uses techniques such as Imagery and self -talk to control the chatter in her head

that often leads to ineffective thoughts.

She visualized her competition and normalized the experience stating “I throw against these girls all the

time. She visualized the setting she would be in, the feeling of the stadium and the intensity of the

crowd. She visualized being in a calm energetically balanced state of being. This type of mental rehearsal

can train the mind to experience upcoming events as if you have done it a thousand times before. That

leads to amazing confidence. Michelle has a fantastic ability to keep her mind on the controllable factors

and stop thinking about the problems she may face with her competition. With self-talk she was able to

keep her mind from going into overboard fight or flight, reminding herself that the “Olympics was just

another track meet” with all the faces she has seen several times before. These energy management

techniques help her to stay on the good side of nervousness and keep the jitters down.

 

One of the last competitive skills she discussed was something I’ve tried to teach athletes many times in

the past. There is a time to train and a time to rest. That is an incredibly wise mental skill to possess. To

get to the high levels of athletic competition requires tremendous hard work. I often see athletes

become so focused and driven to push themselves that they don’t take the time to let their body heal

from all the stress and strain it’s been put through. I watched one of my teammates in college, the

hardest working man I know, wear himself down, and break himself down through over training. The

result was injury and sickness resulting in a missed opportunity at the NCAA Championships.

To get to the big competitions you have put in the time and perfect your physical body, lots of hard

intense work outs. To get through the big competitions and reach your potential you have to learn how

to get the mind into the mental zone state of being energetically balanced, focused, and confident.

Michelle Carter is mastering those skills and I love it!

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?

sport psychology skiing

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

What to do about abusive coaches

Coaches are teachers, motivators, amateur sport psychologists, and parental figures. A great coach can teach life lessons that go on well beyond the playing field, while a bad coach can make a young athlete hate sports and quit playing altogether. I was like many young athletes, figuring that the leap from a high school level to the collegiate level would mean not only higher competition, but better coaching, and wow, was I wrong about that.  A recent Sports Illustrated article details some disturbing stats about how collegiate athletes are treated by their coaches. (This podcast echos the article and is worth the listen).  In one study cited in the article:

“39% of women’s basketball players strongly agreed that “my head coach can be trusted.” 61% of these athletes do not trust the person who is suposed to be their biggest ally and advocate?  The article also goes on to say:

“Even more alarming, athletes have never been more psychologically vulnerable, reflecting a trend among all college students. The ACHA assessment found that 41% of athletes had “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” and 52% had “felt overwhelming anxiety,” with the figures for women jumping to 45% and 59%, respectively. Further, 14% of athletes said they had “seriously considered suicide,” with 6% having attempted it.”

A similar article was written 5 years ago, but it doesn’t seem like much has changed, despite the assertion that:  “That shift has forced coaches to adjust. Abuse simply won’t be tolerated.”  But it still happens.  Within those 5 years we’ve seen Illinois football coach fired, video of Rutgers basketball coach throwing balls at a player while berating him, Florida football coach Jim McElwain curse out a player on national tv, and a high school football coach order his players to assault a referee during a game.

Florida

What is going on here? Have times changed? Are the athletes of today simply a product of the self-esteem generation, where everyone gets a trophy and helicopter parents control their lives?  I think there may be some truth to that, but it’s on a case by case basis.  In the Jim McElwain case, he apologized and publicly stated that his 94-year old mother admonished him on the phone, while the player on the receiving end of the outburst, Kelvin Taylor, said: “I understand exactly what Coach Mac was doing,” Taylor said this week. “He was just in the moment. He was fed up. He’s just trying to discipline us. That’s what the whole team needed. That’s going to make the team better.”

But many other cases are very real, and coaches take the negative motivational tactics too far. College coaches are playing for their jobs, and under tons of stress.  Many of them are simply coaching the way they were coached back in their day as athletes.  And some are just power hungry people who like to use their position to intimidate and get their way. In consulting with athletes over the years, I’ve had multiple collegiate female athletes tell me their coach called them “fat” in a very derogatory manner, in a pathetic attempt to motivate them – how they think this is going to be effective, I’m not sure. I have had more youth athletes than I care to count come into my office where the coaching or the overall team environment is so bad that they don’t even want to go to practice.  The very activity that is supposed to be an escape from the stressors of life, where you can lose yourself in the moment, work out and be physically healthy, bond with teammates, and learn valuable life lessons, can become stressful and overwhelming obligations.

So, what can be done about these abusive coaches?  There is a fine line between tough love coaching and abuse. And whereas in the past, that line was determined by the coach, more recently that line is being defined by the athletes, for better or worse. While there can be some debate about what is abuse, there is no debate that things need to get better.  No matter what position you are in, there is a role for you to enact change.  SPINw can help your school or program make sure that coaching abuse doesn’t happen for your athletes. Here are some ideas:

Athletic Directors – ADs and administrators can help by making sure their program has a clearly defined culture, complete with a Vision Statement, Mission Statement, and Core Values.  Provide continuing education for coaches a couple times a year – after all, the best coaches are striving to learn, grow and improve,  just like they expect their players to.  Finally, consider having a sport psychology consultant or mental game coach on staff, or at the very least develop a relationship so that your athletes have access to this service.

Coaches – Follow your program’s aforementioned Vision, Mission, and Core Values – that is the “process” to follow in order to achieve the results you want. When the goal is winning, you can motivate your players just as well through positive tactics as negative ones. Set clearly defined goals, standards and expectations for your players, and include rewards/punishments for adhering to them or not.  And finally, communicate, communicate, communicate with your athletes!

sport psychology portland oregon lacrosse

Parents – As your athletes grow, make sure to empower them in their relationships with their coaches. Don’t jump in and save them at any sign of trouble, but be there to support and problem-solve. There are sure to be ups and downs in sports, and the best parents help their kids to understand that they aren’t entitled to much in life, and earning something is the best way to build confidence, character, and self-esteem. As athletes begin to get older, it’s also fair to let them know that the potential exists for overbearing coaches, but they have some control over the situation.  Finally, consider having your athlete work with a sport psychology consultant to bolster their mental game.

Linus 1 Linus

Athletes – Athletes can work on recognizing the difference between tough love coaching, criticism, and negativity vs. out right abuse.  In working with athletes I teach them to listen from a different perspective, to be able to handle criticism to help make changes and improve performance, not to take everything personally. For example, a young athlete may feel like the coach is singling them out for negative attention. But on further examination, that coach treats most athletes the same way, that’s just his or her style, which they have been doing for years.  In this case, the coach isn’t going to change, but how you choose to listen and take the information is in your control, and therefore changeable.

Interested in having an athlete work with a sport psychology professional?

The mental game is just as important to success as the tactical, technical and physical elements.  But ask most athletes and they will tell you they put the least amount of work into the confidence, focus, and emotional control.  To work on technique, put in extra time with a coach or supplement training with private lessons.  For tactics, you can read books, watch game film, and ask coaches. Physically athletes can train with a strength and conditioning coach or see a nutritionist.  But how do athletes, coaches and teams go about deliberately improving the mental game?  That’s where sport psychology comes in.  It’s not just a reactive measure for athletes who are struggling, either.  See the spectrum below.

SPINw Mental Game Performance Spectrum

 

 

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

Sport Psychology is Proactive too

Last week’s issue covered the fact that:   #1 – Sport Psychology is not “psychology”

Not only is sport psychology not psychology, it is also not just a measure of last resort. There can be a tendency to think of sport psychology only as a reactive measure – when the athlete is struggling mightily with performance. But working on the mental game is valuable as a proactive tool too.

Let’s look at the Mental Game on this spectrum:

SPINw Mental Game Performance Spectrum

In our experience at SPINw, the majority of our athletes are on the lower end of this spectrum.  They are usually trending toward the Struggling mode or worse.  But we do serve as a proactive measure as well. For young athletes, as they grow physically, become more skilled technically, and learn their sport tactically, the psychological aspect of sports can’t be ignored. The older a player gets, the more pressure, the higher the stakes become, they  must have the tools to handle.  For older athletes, a strong mental game is needed to keep consistency in performance.

A Proactive Success Story
I once worked with a high school quarterback who was up toward the higher end of the spectrum and told me the reason he came in was because he “heard sport psychology could help make me a better player.”  Simple.  He was a confident kid, but this was his first year to potentially be a starter.  He was in a preseason battle to win the starting job and wanted to do everything he could to give him a competitive edge.

We worked together on setting goals for the season to sharpen his focus.  He worked on improving his leadership skills to communicate better and get the most out of his teammates.  We implemented breathing and visualization techniques to help slow the game down.  He ended up not only winning the starting job, but leading his team to an undefeated regular season.

A Reactive / Proactive Mix, with predictably mixed results

The coach of a basketball team I once worked with called me halfway through the season for the first time after a tough 5 game losing streak. He wanted me to help the team re-build their confidence.  At first, the players “having to meet with a sport psychologist” was a little offensive and demeaning to them.  “What like we’re crazy and we can’t figure it out on our own?” I remember one player muttering.  Fortunately, after a couple meetings, they completely warmed up to the concept and enjoyed the sessions and told me it helped them get back on track.

The following season we did a more proactive program and this team had a better season, playing more consistently to the higher end of their potential.  They had a few big wins, including beating a highly ranked rival, and ended the season higher than their preseason prediction polls. Several players mentioned they felt more mentally tough and mentally prepared, lingo that had entered the team lexicon.

The proactive nature of that season allowed for “sport psychology” to be a normal part of the proceedings. There was no stigma around having me present at practices, games, and in-season mental game sessions. This helped get the team in the green part of the Mental Game Performance Spectrum, whereas the year before they were deeply in the red part of it.

Where do you land on the Mental Game Performance Spectrum?

Our SPINw consultants have over 50 years combined experience training, competing, coaching, and mental game training.  Contact us today to get started on a program tailor-made for you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum.

15 years of SPINw – so, what’s changed?

BRIAN SPINw by Brian Baxter, MA Sport Psychology

2014 marks Sport Psychology Institute Northwest’s 15th year providing mental game services for teams, athletes, coaches and parents.  The consultants of SPINw were asked: How has the field of sport psychology changed in the past 15 years?  Interestingly enough, I’d say it’s grown by leaps and bounds, but at the same time, it still faces some of the same challenges now as it did back then.

For my own personal journey, I will go back to 1991 (okay, so that’s *gulp* 23 years ago), the first time I ever heard the term “sport psychology” or someone working with a “sport psychologist.”  It was about my favorite pitcher on my favorite team, John Smoltz from the Atlanta Bravesjohn-smoltz-sport-psychologyBeing a collegiate athlete and psychology major, this was huge!  I was all in!  Except I wasn’t, because nothing seemed to ever come of it, at least for me.  I continued to play soccer, improving my technical and tactical knowledge of the sport, but without improving the mental part.

Fast forward to 1997, when I first had contact with a sport psychologist.  I was pretty dedicated to coaching soccer and taking my USSF C license course, when renowned sport psychologist Darren Treasure presented on the topic of Psychology of Coaching.  My interest was immediately piqued (again) and I hung out afterward and bent Dr Treasure’s ear for a while, soaking up what information I could gain, finally deciding, this is what I want to do.

In 1999 (15 years ago), I applied to and was accepted to John F Kennedy University sport psychology graduate program, and the next year packed up the U-Haul and my wife and dog and I head from North Carolina to California.  I was still not sure what I was going to do with it but was excited for the challenge and to learn.  At the very least, I’d become a better coach.  That was 15 years ago, and a lot has changed and evolved since then.

I finished with my degree in 2004, moved to Portland in 2005 and started consulting under the name BaxterSports (tag line – performance enhancement through mental strength). Or at least trying to consult.  In 2005 my experience was that people still didn’t know about sport baxter_v6psychology.  I would tell people I met that I was a sport psychology consultant, and they would usually respond:  “That’s cool!  What is it?” Once I explained what the field is all about, the response was something like “Wow, I could have used that back when I was a kid/in high school/in college!”  Yeah, me too.

In 2008, I was hired as a consultant here at Sport Psychology Institute Northwest. I took over as director in 2011.  Over the years consultants have come and gone.  Founder Mark Henry left to concentrate on Warrior Golf.  Dr. Erik Bergreen has moved on to Ft. Benning Georgia to teach soldiers the high performance psychology techniques he once used with high level athletes.  Former intern Michael Wilson is now a highly successful consultant with Evolving Concepts in Santa Barbara, CA.  All of these folks, including my two current colleagues, Jimmy Yoo and Glen Coblens, have a common thread:  a life-long love or sports and a passion for helping people achieve their goals.  Another common thread:  success!  This mental game stuff works!

Portland Timbers sports performance trainingAs I look back over the years, it’s the relationships we’ve built and are beginning to build where I have noticed the most change.  Year 10 at Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club, Year 9 for Wilson High School baseball, Year 6 at Windell’s Academy, Year 5 at Multnomah Athletic Club, Year 4 with the Portland Timbers and Thorns RTC program, Year 3 at the University of Portland, to name a few.  Building trust and connections, providing quality service, and helping improve performance – this is what it’s all about.

In 1991, Smoltz was an anomaly and mere curiosity.  Now, in 2014, it is not uncommon to read about an athlete or a team (and championship level ones at that) with mention of their sport psychologist or mental game coach.  In the past couple years, I have had more and more athletes share with friends and family that they are working with a sport psychology consultant.  While these changes are noticeable, there is still a long way to go.  The stigma of “psychology” can be hard to shake. Some people think that only a weak person would seek help on their mental game. We are working hard to change that perception to become closer to reality:  strong people seek help wherever they can find it.

smgpAs we head into the next 15 years, it is our mission to continue to spread the word about this amazing field and it’s benefits for athletes, coaches, parents, teams, and organizations.  We believe that participation in sports and the experiences gained through training and competition makes everyone better… if done the right way.  We are committed to making sure that mental game services are are delivered professionally and effectively, and the option is available to athletes of all sports, age level, and ability level.

Contact us to find Mental Game Solutions for your athlete, team or organization.

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.