How many times have you attended a game and watched an athlete pout and throw a tantrum after making an on-field error or mistake? These lapses in mental toughness happen at all levels, from the pros to youth sports. Of course, it is very human to feel upset when we make mistakes in life, but have you ever stopped to think about how we have a choice in how we respond to these situations? In other words, crying, complaining, and throwing tantrums is not the only way to act when we fail — in fact, these responses are probably the worst ways to handle the situation and improve for the future!
Many of the young athletes I work with at my practice struggle with controlling their on-field emotions, often allowing their negative emotions and actions to take over in key situations of a game. In some cases these kids have resorted to profanity, in other situations they have thrown equipment, and in rare instances they have even acted out through hostile, physical aggression toward an opponent. Obviously none of these responses helped the situation, but did you know these examples of poor coping have also held these kids back from reaching their full athletic potential?
It’s OK to get upset…
I always tell kids it’s OK to feel upset when you strike out, miss a tackle, or get called for a foul. The emotions they feel are very real, the problem becomes when they don’t learn how to re-direct the energy into facilitative, learning opportunities rather than simply acting out. Here are three examples that could have been quickly corrected and allowed the athlete to learn from the experience:
- When an athlete strikes out, rather than throwing the bat simply jog back to the bench, take a seat, and think about the last AB and the pitches that lead to the strikeout. In this example, the athlete is preparing him- or herself to improve in the next AB.
- When the football player misses the tackle, instead of acting out in negative ways, simply clap hands and keep enthusiasm and spirit high for the next play. Not only will this help the player, but will also keep the team positive as well.
- When an athlete is called for a foul, rather than crying on the court and drawing attention to herself, she could just as easily accept that the call was made and keep a level-head for the next play. Again, this response allows for better mind-body synchrony, which leads to better play on the court.
While it may not be easy to control emotions on the field, it is very well worth it. Remind kids that it’s also not easy lifting weights, running, blocking, tackling, hitting, and playing defense — but they do these things in order to play their best. Kids often rise to the levels we adults expect them to, so be sure to “raise the bar” with your expectations not only about their end-result athletic performance, but also in the way they respond to stress and adversity.