Monday, October 4, 2010

Chapter 12: Emotional Control

When dealing with young athletes it's important to remember that they are just children.  Adults can cope with stressful situations much better than kids, therefore as their coaches and mentors we need to understand techniques to help control their emotions in a positive and a not too overbearing way.

"Competitive anxiety, psychological arousal typically is accompanied by cognitive worry, and increased cognitive worry is associated with lower self-confidence and poorer performance. (Gill & Williams, 2008)  Youth that struggle with competitive anxiety may also suffer from stress overload, therefore suffering from early fatigue and lower levels of endurance.

Another major worry when dealing with young prodigies is burnout.  Burnout is a form of stress that when prolonged can result in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced sense of meaning or personal accomplishment. Stress and stressful situations go hand in hand with competitive sports, but I believe there are techniques out there that can minimize the negative impacts of stress on athletes, young athletes in particular.

A few of those techniques that i would incorporate for my tennis prodigy would be to use imagery and Larry Lauer's 3 R's: React, relax and refocus.  Imagery can be used to shift our young tennis stars focus away from negative thoughts like a poor call by the line judge, unforced errors and what his opponent is doing. And focus him on the task at hand and things that he can control, such as hitting his backhand down the line with more velocity or increasing his net play by keeping his feet active.  By redirecting his focus towards positive thoughts and things that he has control over, we may be able to control his anxiety and aggressive tendencies.  I would use audiotapes and videotapes to help him to see and hear those techniques work first hand.

A second option would be Lauer's program for emotional control for anger and aggression.  He has players work on emotional toughness with first to REACT by recognizing the negative emotion, realizing it's there and RELAX by using deep-breathing, self-talk or imagery to visualize yourself responding in a positive way. (Lauer, 2005)  Lauer then talks about using a phrase to accomplish REFOCUS; since tennis is our sport, say "Focus on tennis"or "Keep my feet moving."  Either of these should help them to redirect their focus back to the match in a positive way.

By using these two techniques together I believe we would be effective in helping our tennis prodigy to better understand how to cope with his emotions and actually turn his passion and intensity for the game into a major strength of his.  After all, playing sports should be fun for kids, not stress them out to the point of emotional exhaustion or burnout.


Gill, D.L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Lauer, L.L. (2005). Playing tough and clean hockey: Developing emotional management skills to reduce individual player aggression.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

1 comment:

  1. The 3 R's are a great technique that we can teach youth athletes. It is something that is easy to remember (react, relax, refocus) and that coaches could easily use with their athletes.