Post By: Emily Cohn  | Saturday, May 16, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS ANGER

As story tellers and consumers of so much information our natural instinct is to look for “what happened.” While this information of “what” is an important piece to the performance puzzle, figuring out the “why” something is happening is fundamental for actual behavior change. To understand your frustration or anger in a performance setting, the question “why” is going to get you to a solution far faster than “what”.

There are two schools of thought when dealing with anger in sport: harness it OR suppress it and keep your cool. Reflecting on why you are angry is going to allow you to understand which route you need to take to be effective in your performance setting. Knowing if anger and aggression is helping or hurting your performance is part of knowing your athletic identity. (For more information on athletic identity see Taking a Look Inside Yourself When You Can't Go Outside earlier this month.)

Anger and aggression are automatically seen as negative. In reality, they are vital parts of emotional range and necessary to stay alive. The key word in that sentence is that they are “parts” of a whole functioning individual. When too much of anything takes over, that is when it becomes debilitating. Breaking down your anger, how to recognize it, and how to determine if it is helping or hurting your performance is an essential tool to create change. Aggression is the behavioral manifestation of anger and is often seen as necessary to being a competitor. In fact aggression is often praised in sport documentaries as seen in The Last Dance. The “Bad Boys” Pistons of the ‘80s and ‘90s found a way to win by disrupting everyone else's game by forcing them to get angry through increased aggressive physical play. However, it wasn't until Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan were mentally strong enough to keep their cool that The Bulls were able to win in ‘91. Within one episode (Episode 4) you see both sides of the conversation to harness anger or to keep your cool. Telling someone to play aggressively is counter-productive if that is not his or her usual playing style. An athlete can learn to play aggressively, but often in the heat of the moment telling an athlete to be aggressive is misconstrued as physical which tends to result in performance breakdowns.

In order to determine whether or not aggression is part of your natural playing style, think back on past performances. While you are sheltering in place, you have plenty of time to reflect and gain a better understanding of what worked and what didn't work while you were still playing your sports. Think of a tense setting: you were losing a game you should have been winning, you weren't making your free throws or you couldn't make a second serve. You likely are very aware of “what” was happening. So when your coach, or your family asked afterward “what happened?” didn't it make you just a little bit more irritated to not have any resolution for future performance? How do you think you would have reacted if they asked, “why do you think that happened?” You probably would have thought about it for a little longer, and that reflection is the next step to ensuring it doesn't happen again. When you are thinking about why something happened the way that it did, you can then break it down into whether or not the breakdown occurred because of your behavior, your emotions, your environment or some combination of the three. Finally, once you are out of quarantine, start taking note of high intensity performances and what emotional state works and what doesn't.

Keep your cool or harness your anger, but always reflect on the “why”. Keep in mind that you can discuss these questions with the help of a Mindurance certified mental performance coach.