Emotion: Regulation Not Control

Upon reading “Seeing Red Might Just Ramp Up Your Game,” I was reminded of some thoughts from Cal Botteril at the first sport psychology conference I ever attended, “Successful performance is about ’emotional management,’ not ’emotional control.'”  This might seem like a subtle play on words, but words can be powerful.  “Control” speaks to confinement rather than allowing the liberated play that emotions can and should afford an athlete.  Many great performances actually occur when one is nearly out of control emotionally and/or physiologically (see catastrophe theory in sport) – the rower, runner, or weightlifter that exerts him or herself until “the blinds almost close” or the basketball, football, or lacrosse player that feels to be playing on the “performance edge.”

The article “Seeing Red” oversimplifies the role of emotion in athletic performance, yet it ought to get one thinking about the complexity and value of emotion during athletic performance.  Energy is needed for explosive and energetic play, yet failing to be able to calm one’s self pre-game and during performance can lead to both physical and mental fatigue.

“Anger” itself is not necessary for good play, but rather the energy, attitude, and focus it brings helps during the many times when aggression in sport is necessary.  Every athlete should learn how to harness the, at times, violent energy needed in many sports.  It often helps for the athlete to find a word that defines what this energy state is to him or her.  This is particularly helpful to the person that finds it difficult to label themselves as “aggressive” or “angry” (This relates to the line in the article – Extroverted study participants were also better at expressing their anger, Dr. Woodman noted, because they may find it easier to show emotion in public.)  These athletes often come to the realization that ideas such as “explosive,” or “dynamic,” can help them find the extra edge.

Conversely, every athlete ought to learn how to calm down when they begin to step over the emotional brink.  A fighter stepping into the ring certainly needs to find the necessary courage and agression to deliver the necessary damage.  At the same time between punches and kicks, one needs to find the good sense to execute a wise game plan and be appropriately patient throughout the battle.

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