Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dealing with Emotions

As a young player one of the biggest challenges on the football pitch is dealing with emotions. Whether it’s anger, frustration or despondency a young footballer often allows his or her emotions to rule their game. As a footballpsychologist helping youth team players with this emotional challenge is a big part of my work. 

The primary reason why it’s more difficult for a youth team player to deal with emotions is because of the way in which the brain is designed. Let me explain a little. It is the middle part of the brain which is the emotional part of the brain. This is the part that fires up when you get angry, frustrated or despondent. In stark contrast the front part of the brain is the rational part that allows you to manage your emotions. It helps you to think and bring reason to any situation. Despite the fact that some adults are better than others at managing their emotions, it is not until adulthood that the front part of the brain fully connects with the emotional middle brain. In fact it’s not until the age of 25 that all the connections fully develop. Before that age, and especially as a teenager there are fewer connections so your ability to deal with tough times on the pitch are limited.

However there are footballpsychology techniques that you can use that help you grow these connections and help you become better at dealing with emotions and in turn more focused. Here is a simple 4-step process to improve your emotional management:

1.As a footballpsychologist I tell my clients that managing emotions actually begins before playing. It’s so important to understand that football is not a game of perfect. Decisions are going to go against you, you will make mistakes as will your team mates, some weeks your opponents will play miraculously well and some weeks things will just go against you. Accept this. Before you cross that white line say to yourself “Ok there will be some moments during the game today when things will happen that I don’t like. Make sure I forget these moments and keep playing positively.”

2.Emotions start to get out of control when you focus on the things you can’t control. There is a great saying in footballpsychology which is “Control the controllables.” Recognise what you can and can’t control and make sure you don’t sweat the things you can’t. Focus on the things you can control. Examples of things you can’t control on the pitch include the referee and the conditions of the pitch. Both are beyond our control and yet I continue to see and experience players who get wound up by both.

3.Managing emotions start with SPOTTING that you are getting angry, frustrated or down on yourself. In fact this is the most crucial part of emotional management. Allow a negative emotion to take hold and it can wreck your game. Awareness is the first step in dealing with your feelings. When you SPOT that you are getting angry label what is happening to you. Say to yourself “I am getting angry”. Some of the leading science researchers in the world have discovered that simply labelling the emotion you are feeling is alone enough to deal with the emotion. As a footballpsychologist I find this method really effective.

4. Now it’s time to SHIFT that negative emotion. Shift your anger by taking some deep breaths and by telling yourself to “relax!” Simple idea but not always easy to do. If you are feeling despondent then lift yourself by using your body language. Start moving, constantly check your shoulders to see what’s going on around you, get on your toes and communicate with your team mates loudly. You need actions that get adrenaline and dopamine (your focus hormone) flowing to raise your alertness and motivation. Classic footballpsychology in action!


Anonymous said...

At what age can this be applied? I have some 7 and 8 year olds who get upset (angry, tearful) when they lose a game, or sometimes for something as minor as conceding a goal. There is no pressure exerted from coaches or parents so I think they are putting too much pressure on themselves to be perfect. Advice welcome.

BoniverB_R said...

Interesting article. I still feel highly curious on emotional restraint on the pitch. Especially the catharsis theory of emotion, which is a particularly poor idea. Right?

Dan Abrahams said...

In my opinion a '4 step' process is unnecessary for 7-8 year olds and this is written for a slightly older youth player who can use language and/or body orientation to manage emotions. At a younger age the coaches definition of success is a big part of the process. Helping young players define success away from a result/outcome orientation is paramount. Fun and freedom are the major goals at this time. Of course 8 year olds will be 8 year olds so tears & tantrums are inevitable...they just require management