Emotions. As an athlete, you experience a variety of emotions in your sport: happiness, excitement, exhilaration, frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, joy, pride, and a variety of others. Throughout a season, one game, or even one quarter of a game, you can ride an emotional roller coaster. You could win a conference championship one Saturday afternoon in May, and the following Sunday evening, feel an intense sense of disappointment when you find out your team did not make the national tournament (I can relate). You may not be in control of what you feel in certain moments, but you can most certainly manage those feelings and manage your reactions. When you can effectively manage your emotions as an athlete, you will create more consistent play and consistent performance.
When I talk about managing emotions, it is all about what works best for you. So how do you experience intense, emotional situations, and translate those feelings to effectively enhance your game?
Here are 3 action steps you can take and practice throughout your performance, so you are ready to react during competition.
Identify how YOU like to feel when you play.
Every player is different. Some athletes play better when they are calm, others when they are excited, while others play better when they are a little angry or frustrated. Commonly, feeling angry and frustrated are associated with “negative” emotions, yet, these “negative” emotions can have very positive outcomes for some athletes, helping them play at their best. I like to think of emotions as effective or ineffective, instead of positive or negative. Is it more effective for you to feel amped up and be super high energy during performance, or do you like to focus, get fully in the zone, and play better when you are more on edge? Take a moment and identify one of your best performances and reflect on how you felt. Make a list of at least three emotions you felt during that performance. Make it part of your pre-game routine to feel these emotions in order to set yourself up to play your best.
Control what YOU can control.
Once you have identified effective emotions for your play, it will be easier to manage that emotional roller coaster during competition. For many athletes, being in situations that they can’t control, such as bad call made by a ref, trash-talking opponents, or distracting fans, takes them out of the game mentally. Focusing on these things that you cannot control can cause you to feel emotions that are not effective for you to play at your best. In these situations, identify the situations that cause you the most distracting emotional reaction ahead of time, so you can prepare in advance. What do these situations cause you to feel? Are those feelings effective or ineffective for your play? If yes, great. Use that feeling to excel in the next play. If not, identify how you would like to feel and have a trigger to help you get back to that feeling, and focus on what is important next.
Staying in your “green.”
When you are in your most effective emotional state, we at Summit like to refer to that as “being in the green.” When you recognize the situations that cause you to stray away from the green, you want to have strategies to get you back to that state. For example, if you are getting too frustrated and too upset because your opponent will not stop tugging on your jersey and the ref does not see, take a deep breath, tell yourself “focus on this play” (or a short phrase that works for you) and focus on your offensive moves to get away from the defender. Or maybe you are playing too lax and you feel too calm because the team you are playing is not that great. Give yourself your own challenges, and focus on perfecting your own technique.
As you experience different scenarios in competition and in practice, you will come across many situations that will cause you to feel a lot of emotions. And, that’s okay! When you experience emotions, it shows that you care. What is important is that you find what emotions work best for you, you can keep them consistent, and in turn, will lead to consistent performance. When you can manage your emotions, you manage your game, and you perform with your most consistent play.