Are you failing in your performance because of anger? Painful, isn’t it? Not to mention embarassing.
You make a mistake of some sort at some point during a game. Usually it is not the first mistake and sometimes it’s not your own mistake. It’s a teammate’s mistake or the refereee or a fan in the stands. Or perhaps it’s not even a person. It could be a bounce that didn’t go right. It could be your own performance is off for one reason or another.
None of it matters anyway because whatever it is that triggers it and whenever it occurs you are checking out and heading for the moon.
Of course after you lose your temper things get better, don’t they?
Because you are not in control of yourself or your game.
Anger puts your body in a state of stress and imbalance. Not a great combination for achieving athletic excellence. When we are angry, our bodies are stiff, tight, clumsy, slow, and most important; we are mentally and emotionally “distracted”; lured away from being able to concentrate on performing our “A game” and focused instead on whatever it was that “triggered” our anger; the event, the person, the action, the shot, the swing, the coach, the catch, the parent, the girl/boyfriend, the official, the referee, the umpire. Whatever and whoever. Our senses are scrambled; confused, and disconnected from the moment and certainly the game.
It is impossible to catch the ball, hit the ball, throw the ball, kick the ball, run faster, jumper higher, be stronger, perform your best, etc., etc., etc. when your mind is consumed with whatever it is … that just made you mad.
“He whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.
American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that a long time ago and he knew what he was talking about. It’s true. Especially for athletes. Anger can destroy your game.
Dealing with anger can be difficult. Very.
However … not (necessarily) bad.
Let’s begin at the beginning. The starting point for dealing with ALL emotions is to NOT label them as “good” OR “bad”. Quite often, the natural segue from labeling our emotions as bad is that WE are bad.
“Bad boy. Bad girl,” We may be told. “You shouldn’t FEEL that way.”
Sometimes we even tell OURSELVES that we are bad.
Not so … in fact, DEFINITELY not so. Emotions are JUST emotions. In reality, emotions are simply chemicals (they’re called peptides) which are triggered and released into our bodies by our thoughts. There are no butterflies in your stomach, no bats in your belfry, no fire in your belly, no cobwebs in your brain.
We do not need to place value on our emotions; let alone judge them or worse; ourselves.
Emotions are NEITHER good nor bad. They are chemicals; peptides. It would make as much sense as labeling a person as good or bad if they had a gallon of paint in their garage or rubbing alcohol in their medicine cabinet. Just chemicals. Every human being has them and, in reality, they actually have a job.
That job is to tell us to “take action.”
Let’s ponder some emotions for a second; and how they work; how they tell us to “take action.”
Guilt. Good or bad? Well, in any specific instance which “triggers” guilt the initial response should be to “get quiet” and evaluate the situation before we judge ourselves or others.
Now doesn’t that sound like a good action? Does to me.
Upon completion of this “action”; i.e. a review of the situation wherein we ascertain if we have or have not acted wrongfully then we can take an appropriate second action.
If we have not acted poorly then we can take the action of dismissing the guilt. If, on the other hand, we have indeed behaved poorly then the “guilt” will prompt us once again to “take action” and that action would be to work to correct the situation; perhaps an apology for example; or some conciliatory gesture to make things right with the offended party.
Again; sounds good, doesn’t it?
Here’s another one: “sorrow”. Sorrow can certainly FEEL bad because it is triggered by thoughts of “loss”. Once again, the emotion prompts us to take action and correct the situation. The proper action in this case would be to RECOVER whatever it is that we have lost. If we work to REPLACE our loss, the emotion will go away.
Okay so finally; how about this anger thing? Well, anger is a PROTECTIVE emotion; triggered by thoughts of something important to us being “at risk”. The emotion is telling us that we need to do something in order to protect whatever it is of value that we feel is at risk.
Not a bad idea.
Okay, but what do we DO about this anger; or perhaps more appropriately; what do we do WITH the anger?
How about changing how we THINK about the emotion. I’ve got an idea; let’s dismiss all of our perceptions and judgements of emotions and consider them all as ENERGY and okay; so what do you do with energy?
Why you use it of course. Intelligently. Gasoline; if you spread it underneath your car and set it on fire it will explode and destroy the car. If you put it in the tank, you can drive to wherever you want to go.
So … when you’re angry, should you throw yourself onto the ground and beat your fists and feet into the turf? Should you throw your bat, tennis racket, helmet, glove, the ball, etc., etc. into the field and shout and howl and curse and bellow like a stabbed bull.
Now although that kind of release (of your energy) might feel good for a moment (gets it out of your system), it usually makes you look pretty stupid (hopefully not too many people will point and laugh at you; especially not at the same time) and more importantly it does absolutely NOTHING to help your performance or your team win the game.
In fact, opposing teams often try to “bait” players into anger in order to take them “off” their game.
I’ve done it.
I was playing baseball in high school and we were facing one of the best teams in the state with one of the hardest throwing pitchers. This player was so infatuated with his ability to throw the fastball that he had somehow talked his coach into cutting his uniform sleeves up higher so his arms would be revealed and I admit; he had a pair of “guns”.
“Oh boy,” I giggled as I approached the plate from the on deck circle, “Watch this.” I winked at my teammates in the dugout.
I dug in rather nonchalantly. The pitcher snarled at me, wound up, and threw a seed to the catcher right through the middle of the plate. I didn’t see it but it sure SOUNDED fast.
Sounded like a strike too.
“Here you go, hayseed,” he seemed to be saying. “See if you can hit that, if you dare.”
I replied by very casually stepping out of the box, leaning backwards at the waist and YAWNING as long and as loud as I could; as if I was bored to tears and very VERY UN-impressed with my man on the mound.
I lowered my chin, stepped back into the box, and casually lifted my eyes back up and out in the direction of the mound.
The pitcher’s eyes were as big as dinner plates. I could see the smoke rising out of his ears and you could virtually HEAR his thoughts. “Yawn?” His neck muscles bulged. “This guy yawns at my fastball??!!??”
There were more neck bulges, more bug eyes, more curses under his breath and then he proceeded … to walk me on four straight.
As I trotted to first base I struggled not to laugh out loud. I crept off the bag at first and, believe it or not, I waved to him. (I was tempted to blow him a kiss but that seemed a bit much so I played it “close to the vest”; just a sarcastic little wave and a very sweet smile).
The pitcher howled in anger and threw the ball to first and OVER the first baseman’s head. I sprinted down to second and the first baseman; bless his soul and pointy little head, was now mad too. He threw the ball to second over the shortstop’s head and all of a sudden I was on third and scored on the next pitch. You guessed it; a wild pitch past the catcher.
All because of anger.
But can that same emotion have an intelligent and beneficial “use?” Certainly.
Whenever there is a “mistake”; whether it is our own, a teammate’s, an opposing player, a coach, or an official (notice that I did NOT use the word “failure”) it is really merely “information” : a “clue” if you will or “indication” of something that needs to be fixed and even HOW to fix it if we will USE the emotion of anger and translate it into INTELLIGENT action.
Recently I had a baseball client; a youngster with a lot of talent who would get mad and respond by simply “removing himself” from the action. Occasionally he would lose his temper but more often he would simply “check out” mentally and give up in frustration and disgust.
It was a huge problem. Whenever he made a mistake he would “check out” or throw a fit, the coaches would get angry, reprimand, and bench him.. (Just like a serve and volley in a tennis match; back and forth; back and forth).
The parents and the youngster were freaking out. Not only is he good at baseball, he loooooooooves baseball. They all had their noses pressed up against a very thick wall.
In our first session together I asked him, “How do you feel when you make a mistake?”
He hung his head and lowered his eyes. “Mad …”, he mumbled.“Good for you,” I exclaimed. “Good for you.” I clapped my hands and pumped my fist in the air. “Great!!!”
He couldn’t believe what he heard. He lifted his head and his eyes which were as big as dinner plates.
“Now let’s DO something with that anger.”
I explained to him that he needed to think of and USE the anger as energy; shape it into INTELLIGENCE. I instructed him to change his perception of whatever happened.
First and foremost, it was not failure; JUST a MISTAKE. Secondarily it was information; feedback; an opportunity to learn, to grow, to get better.
He jumped all over that. If there is anything that drives him it is the desire to “get better.”
The transformation was almost immediate. His reaction to “errors” in the field and at bat changed immediately. He did not of course stop making mistakes (although very naturally with this new “tool” in hand he began to make fewer and fewer of them and, of course kept getting better).
We even stopped discussing his anger simply because he stopped exhibiting it. He had learned how to use it constructively.
Do not judge any of your emotions or yourself for having them. They are chemical reactions to thoughts. In the case of anger the chemical is strong and if used properly can even benefit our performance.
The process works when we work the process.
Believe me … at the highest levels of performance which you all aspire to … mental skills are the MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR GAME. At the lower levels in sport, mental skills are still "stigmatized". Some student athletes and their parents think that working on mental skills is an admission of weakness; of being broken. Nothing could be further from the truth. ALL major league teams employ mental skills coaches. Mental skills can easily elevate your skills by 5 - 10%. Mental skills work can having you playing at the top of your game CONSISTENTLY. Fixing mechanical skills or getting bigger stronger faster without being tough mentally simply DOES NOT WORK!!!
Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask … or how. Contact me and I can explain all our programs including sports mental toughness programs which can easily improve your own mental game or that of your son/daughter or the players you coach.
I work with athletes and their families at every level of performance from all over the world using ZOOM over the internet!!!
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Karl Avdek, Founder, GC-GP-GH