Managing Emotions for Athletes 

How to Control Your Emotions as an Athlete

How do emotions personally affect your competitive performance? Have there been competitions where a bad officiating call mentally knocked you off your game?

There are six facts about competitive emotions:

  1. All athletes are emotional beings 
  2. Emotions vary in intensity 
  3. Emotions alter your physiology 
  4. Emotions affect you mentally
  5. Emotions impact your actions and performance
  6. Emotions are mostly within your control.

Let me further explain… All athletes experience a wide range of emotions, more so than all other living things. Learning how to manage emotions is key for success as an athlete

When competing, you will experience many emotions, such as anger, calmness, happiness, sadness, disappointment, pride, etc. Emotions exist along a continuum. 

For example, anger can vary in intensity. Take, for instance, a golfer who misses a 3-foot putt. At one end of the spectrum, that golfer may feel slightly annoyed. On the other end of the spectrum, that golfer may completely flip out. 

Emotions profoundly influence physiology, such as breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, etc. When you react negatively to a mistake in competition, your heart will begin pounding, breathing will become shallow, muscles will tighten, and posture will slump.

Emotions affect your mind. When you are frustrated due to a mistake in a close game, you will have difficulty focusing, have unproductive or negative thoughts, feel increased pressure, and become less confident.

Emotions impact your level of performance in competitions. When you are overwhelmed by intense, unproductive emotions, your reactions become slower, your mechanics and technique less fluid, and your decision-making abilities become compromised.

In addition, you may feel less energized and prone to making more mistakes. 

Competitive emotions are mostly within your control. During a competition, you may experience a bad or unfair officiating call. However, how you respond to that circumstance and how you deal with your emotions is within your control. 

For example, a bad call can cause you to verbally lash out at the official, which will compound the problem. Conversely, you can choose to take several deep breaths to calm yourself, re-focus your attention, and regain your composure.

Since you cannot prevent challenging circumstances from happening, learning how to manage your emotions is crucial for dealing with mistakes and adverse circumstances and performing at your peak.

Early in the 2024 WNBA season, the Indiana Fever suffered a loss to the Connecticut Sun after Indiana lost their composure late in the game.

With Indiana clinging to a 76-75 lead with 3:37 to play, Fever rookie Caitlin Clark turned the ball over and drew her fifth foul when she attempted to regain possession of the ball.

In addition, Clark was called for a technical when she shouted at the referees in frustration. From that point, the Sun took control of the game and beat Indiana 88-84.

After the game, Clark commented on her outburst late in the game. 

CLARK: “Just the technical foul, can’t get that. A little frustration of how the game was reffed. But it is what it is. That’s out of your control. I thought our team put ourselves in position to make some plays to try and win down the stretch, and the Sun always came up with big plays.”

To manage intense emotions, you must first understand what you can and cannot control. For example, you cannot control the officiating, but you can control your response to officiating calls.

Once you know what you can control, you can develop strategies to manage your emotions effectively so you can focus on competing at your peak.

Emotions and focus go hand in hand. When you focus on what you can control, you will better manage your emotions.

Try brainstorming aspects of competition that you can and cannot control. This exercise will help you keep your perspective when you experience challenging competition situations.

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Composed Athlete

The Composed Athlete (Digital Download)

“The Composed Athlete” audio and workbook program helps you gain a competitive edge by improving your composure in competition. Learn the best ways to let go of mistakes and overcome frustration and dwelling.

“I am a PGA Professional and wanted some ideas to help my students, but my own game has improved! I think I will shoot 69, negative thoughts have vanished, and my self-talk and confidence has improved tremendously. I will be referring my students to your website.” 

~Bill Allen, PGA Pro

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