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The Truth about Athletes and Anger

September 28, 2012 | Loren Fogelman

Kevin Garnett

As an athlete, how do you handle adversity? Your response says a lot about you. Sport psychology reveals the relationship between emotions and actions. So think about it. Do you become angry, short-tempered or throw a tantrum when you lose? (See how to mentally prepare for the big game.)

Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning it's a cover for other emotions. Although it feels real, another feeling—like fear, anxiety, frustration or resentment—is hiding under the surface.

At first anger feels like it gives you a performance boost. Beware, though, because although an adrenaline rush does affect strength, pain threshold and performance, it can become a crutch with addictive qualities.

Anger causes your performance to suffer. (Learn 6 tips to keep cool.) When it persists, you lose focus and you might do things you'll regret later. We've all seen athletes lose control, break equipment, scream obscenities and get into fights. Anger is a poor excuse for bad behavior.

So how should you deal with difficult-to-express emotions? And how can you learn to let go of mistakes so you can move on? Sports psychologists talk about mental toughness. Letting your anger get the best of you does not make you mentally tough.

Here are some tips for controlling anger on and off the field.

Don't Forget to Breathe

Count to ten. If you still feel angry, repeat a word in your head like "calm" or "focus." It's difficult to have two thoughts at the same time, so you will release the anger.

Keep an Anger Log

Write down what made you angry. You want to know the cause. Describe the circumstances leading up to your feelings of anger, including the thoughts or actions that set you off. Then list alternative thoughts you could have had and a different way of responding to the situation.

Take It One Step Further

Now that you have listed things that make you angry, create alternative ways to respond. Visualize yourself responding in a controlled, purposeful way.

Emotional Freedom Techniques

They immediately take the edge off, no matter where you are or what you're doing. My book, The Winning Point, is an excellent resource, providing actionable advice on how to maintain control when you're under pressure.

Anger is not based on logic. It's a purely emotional response to feeling out of control. It actually keeps you from dealing with the real issue. Taking things too personally can result in anger. But you can learn to control your emotions when you're under pressure.

A Challenge

Anger and control are closely related. Become familiar with other emotions that trigger anger, including resentment, exasperation, rage and fury. Uncomfortable emotions are often expressed as anger.

Build your new vocabulary. Develop awareness of how each emotion feels, and begin pairing the emotion with the feeling. Next, stop blaming other people or circumstances.You have the power to change how you respond. You don't have to do anything. The choice is yours.


Loren Fogelman
- Loren Fogelman is author of "The Winning Point" and founder of Expert Sports Performance, a company devoted to teaching athletes around the globe how to...
Loren Fogelman
- Loren Fogelman is author of "The Winning Point" and founder of Expert Sports Performance, a company devoted to teaching athletes around the globe how to...
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