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!

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)

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.”

 

The Mentality of an Amazing Goal

Portland Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury tied the score last weekend with this incredible volley. Here’s what was going through his mind:

“It’s just one of those where [the ball] just pops up in the air, and I’m trying to concentrate as much as I can as it falls down and make solid contact,” Jewsbury said of his 79th-minute savior. “Sometimes on the easier, clear-cut chances the more you think [the worse you strike the ball]. And when you just react and let your instincts take over, sometimes they do [go in].”

Good point about letting your instincts take over vs thinking too long. Focusing on the ball and your technique is the best way to block out negative thoughts and other distractions.

The Olympics – Four years of training for one moment!

In my mind, the most amazing element of the Olympic games is this one.  The best of the best athletes in the world come together to compete to be Olympic champions.  For some sports, like basketball and soccer, there is a tournament, so athletes get to compete over the course of a couple days or weeks.  But for others, like track and field, triathalon, and boxing, there may only one chance to compete – one mistake and you’re done.

Imagine the pressure!

At SPINw, we’ve worked with athletes in many of the Olympic sports:

  • basketball
  • volleyball
  • cycling
  • equestrian
  • fencing
  • soccer
  • swimming
  • tennis
  • track and field
  • triathalon
  • wrestling

Althought these sports have entirely different skills sets, training regimens, body types, etc., the mental components are the same!  We help athletes deal with this type pressure every day.  Through focusing exercises, breathing techinques, and visualization, among others, we teach athletes the mental skills they need to succeed.

As you watch the games this summer, remember to take a few moments to think about the mental part of this competition, and how it compares to you and your sport.

Evan Longoria and the mental game

A couple of my athletes brought this story to my attention recently (scroll down for video).  They both say it was the reason they finally decided to seek out SPINw to help their mental game.  “If it worked for Evan Longoria, I thought I should give it a try,” one said.

Athletes across all sports face, for the most part, the same mental challenges – pressure to perform, pressure to win, dealing with a slump, returning from injury, etc.   When athletes are confident and things are going well, and they are “in the zone,”  the game seems slower and manageable.  When overthinking and excess emotions occur, the game tends to speed up, as Longoria notes here:

“It could have been the pressure I was puttting on myself, maybe it was the outside distractions that I let get to me…. Things kind of sped up on me.  I think that was part of the whole experience for me, was learning those feelings.” – Evan Longoria on going 1 for 20 in the World Series.    Check out this ESPN video about his work with sport psychologist Ken Ravizza…

The video ends on a great note, touching on the need to make the mental game second nature. The reporter asks: “Do you think there will be a day when you don’t need a focal point? When you don’t need mental exercises that you do?”

“No, I don’t think there will be. Because as soon as you start believing that in this game, you’ll get humbled in a heartbeat.  I’ll always have that in the back of mind, and when I need it, use it.” was his reply.

Interested in trying out sport psychology?  Contact us!

You can also check out Ken Ravizza’s book, Heads Up Baseball, in the SPINw Bookstore.

Beating the Heat – The Mental Approach

While most of the country has been in summer weather mode for a month or more, the Pacific Northwest summer typically starts in July. This year, we’ve had especially little time to transition, going from temperatures in the 50’s to the 80’s in what seems like the blink of an eye. Of course, you know the need to hydrate and eat right (if not, here’s a good article), to wear sunscreen and the proper gear, all the physical elements of battling the heat, but what about the mental aspects?

As a coach, every time a player said “It’s sooo hot!” all I heard was”Hey coach, I have an excuse to not play hard!” The mentally strong athlete treats the heat like another opponent: Not something to be feared and run away from, but something to look straight in the face and conquer. Here are a couple sport psych standbys, tailored to the heat:

-Focus! – You could focus on the heat, but why? You don’t have any control over it. Focus on what you do have control over: preparation, attitude, and effort

-Positive self-talk:“ During uncomfortable moments, it’s natural to think negatively about a situation. But mentally strong athletes think positive thoughts and find the positives in any situation. “ugh, it’s hot, this stinks!” becomes: “this heat is only making me stronger“ keep it up!”

– Visualization: “ Remember that if you are hot, your teammates and most likely your opponents are too. See yourself leading your teammates, and outlasting the competition

Athletes, want to work more on your mental game to boost your confidence this summer?
Coaches, looking for ways to add to your team’s experience and get that extra edge? Contact SPINw to talk to one of our consultants about individual or team programs for a strong mental game.

info@spinw.com
1-888-885-5570

Slumping at work? What would Jack do?

After years in sales, Dan Di Cio, a Pittsburgh account executive, was aiming for “a breakout season” selling high-tech equipment. But even working longer hours and weekends, he kept falling short of his goals. Watching other salespeople win awards, he asked himself early this year: “Why can’t I be that guy?” To boost his self confidence during the recession, real-estate broker Tim Stowell, copied some tactics used by golfer Jack Nicklaus to improve the mental side of his game.Mr. Di Cio, a big baseball fan, recalled how Major League pitcher John Smoltz got help on his mental game to pull out of a slump in 1991. Mr. Di Cio contacted sports psychologist Gregg Steinberg after hearing him speak and, with his help, Mr. Di Cio learned that he was working so hard that he risked driving his numbers even lower. Dr. Steinberg says he prescribed the same remedy many pro athletes embrace: Stop overworking and allow yourself to relax.

Josh Anderson for The Wall Street Journal