If you are involved in sports as an athlete, coach, parent, or fan, then you have undoubtedly heard the slang term “head case” used to describe an athlete losing his cool, marching to the beat of only her own drum, or engaged in various attention-getting histrionics that steal from the game on the field (note, the term is not used here to imply a mental disorder, but instead to describe a commonly used sports term about a person not fully in step with the team). These athletes often allow their emotions to get the best of them and experience negative consequences as a result, including benchings, ejections, suspensions, trades, and fines. Interestingly, many athletes who battle to control emotions are very talented athletes, and the only thing holding them back from reaching their full potential is their lacking mental toughness. While it is often helpful to play sports with a passion, there is a point where emotions can actually take away from an otherwise talented athlete’s on-field contributions (i.e. getting thrown out of a game for fighting with an official, or simply being so worked up the athlete can no longer focus well enough to make plays). It is for these reasons that athletes self-assess to see how their mental toughness stacks up, and what needs to be done for future improvement.
The top 5 signs you might need help with your emotions
Athletes with potential will constantly struggle to play their best if they keep “getting in their own way,” making it important to examine the signs that indicate an athlete at high-risk for emotional breakdowns. Conversely, athletes who learn how to keep their cool in pressure situations often exceed their potential because they master arousal control, focus, and resiliency, allowing them to dominate the competition. Below are 5 markers that may indicate the need for mental health support in order to minimize emotional breakdowns, and maximize opportunities to build self-confidence.
- Self-centered thinking. Athletes only concerned about their own statistics and other attention-seeking behaviors don’t make the best teammates, and often cause disruptions to team chemistry and cohesion. These athletes boast about themselves, make controversial social media posts, and only view success in terms of their own accomplishments, not the team. Self-centered athletes are also known to reject advice (and instructions) from coaches, leading to team dysfunction and chaos.
- Fighting with coaches, officials, and teammates. When athletes constantly argue with officials, disrespect coaches, and don’t make efforts to work well with teammates, it holds the entire team back from potential success. Learning how to handle adversity is vital to sport (and life) success, and accepting that things won’t always go your way is a big step toward becoming a more resilient athlete.
- Cheating. Playing sports with sportsmanship and integrity should be the #1 goal for all athletes, but some athletes push the envelope and engage in behaviors that involve bending the rules — or flat out cheating. Using illegal equipment, performance drugs, or playing while academically ineligible are three quick examples of sports cheating.
- Allow fans to get in their head. Athletes who struggle with emotional control seem to hear every remark from the crowd — and often act out irresponsibly in response. “Hearing fans” also comes in the form of social media where some athletes engage in negative exchanges with people online — and rarely do these battles end up in a good place for the athlete or the team.
- Never reach full potential because of emotions. Perhaps the biggest concern relating to emotional breakdowns has to do with the fact that they hold athletes back from playing their best! How can you focus on the next play when you’re still yelling at an official about the last play? Ask any coach about athletes he or she has coached that failed to live up to their potential and aside from injuries you will almost always hear that uncontrolled emotions were the #1 problem.
While the term “head case” isn’t one you will read about in the psychology literature, it is a regularly used slang term that every athletes, coaches, and officials know quite well. One of the worst things an athlete can do is beat himself, so make it a point to examine your level of mental toughness and what improvements need to be made for the future. Instead of being known as a head case, learn how to develop the skills necessary to keep your composure, deal with adversity, and help your team become mentally strong as a collective unit.