I’m back after a well-deserved break and since the Packer’s game prevented me from posting yesterday, I thought that I could post today about one important aspect of playing high-pressure games: emotional control. Emotions are tricky because they affect your mind and your body, so they have two ways of getting on the way of high performance. Even trickier, though, is the fact that emotions affect each person differently. While one athlete thrives when yelling, jumping, and celebrating (i.e., very aroused), another may prefer to be quiet and focused to play their best. Therefore, the first step to having emotional control is to know with what kind of emotions and at what level of arousal you play your best. One effective way of figuring out which emotions will help you is to pay attention to your emotions and performance: when you are playing well, which emotions are predominant? When you are playing poorly, which emotions are stronger?
Once you figure out where you want to go, emotional management comes in. Because emotions affect your body, part of emotional management is to control these bodily reactions. One effective way of doing this is through deep breathing. Taking some deep breaths can go a long way to manage that tension (and sometimes even shaking) before and during the game. And the tension can be tricky because it can make something easy, like a snap, go very wrong.
Another issue that happens with emotions that are not in the ideal range is that they come together with worries and difficulty in focusing, which is definitely not good for performance. You may wonder if you will win or lose, why you are making mistakes, if there is still a chance for a turnover, and all this time you are not completely focused on the game itself. For these worries, self-talk tends to help many athletes to return to focus. One play at a time!
Thus, if you want to improve your emotional control under pressure, start by knowing what works for you, practice breathing relaxation, so your body gets used to relaxing at your will, and practice your self-talk. Don’t like self-talk? Maybe mindfulness is the way to go for you and acceptance will guide you to your best emotions and focus. Need some help? Contact us for more information.