Emotions and Performance

Competition can make you emotional. You may get happy when you are winning and you may get mad/sad when you are losing. Proper emotional management leads to peak performance. You need to know how certain emotions affect your performance and how you can better manage your emotions.

Getting sad or angry after every mistake is not a recipe for success. Often, these negative emotions are just defense mechanisms that protect your ego when losing. Occasionally, getting mad can help to motivate yourself, but most of the time, it reduces confidence, motivation, relaxation, and clouds thinking and judgement. Negative emotions can sometimes create a downwards spiral: make mistake, get mad, play worse, make mistake, get more mad, play even worse.

On the other hand, positive emotions such as happiness can help performance by increasing confidence, motivation, and relaxation. However, having positive emotions after every good play can be harmful. If you are too happy, you may get complacent. It can also create a roller coaster effect. If good plays always make you happy, you will likely get more mad after bad plays. The top athletes maintain peak performance by never getting too high or too low. They only get very angry or happy when needing help motivating themselves. After most plays, they stay calm so they stay focused for the next play.

So how do you control your emotions during a game? Can you resist getting mad after making a mistake? Suppressing emotions is difficult and can sometimes backfire. The trick is to change your beliefs, thinking, and self-talk so you don’t get too emotional in the first place. Emotions are largely caused by your interpretation of events. Making a mistake in a game isn’t the direct cause of anger.  It is your interpretation, or judgement, of making a mistake that causes anger. You get angry because you judge the mistake as “bad.” You judge them as bad because you think they prevent you from reaching your goals. However, your judgements and interpretations are under your control. There is nothing inherently “bad” about making a mistake in a game. No one is forcing you to view the mistake as bad. It is subjective. You could view it as neutral, neither good or bad, if you wanted to. This is the trick for controlling your emotions: judging plays as more neutral. It’s hard to get emotional over neutral events. But you have to convince yourself that they are neutral with logical reasoning. Here are some examples of self-talk, or reasoning that helps manage emotions:

  • Sometimes you can make mistakes even when playing your best. This is because you can’t completely control everything. In tennis, you can have great form, be relaxed, confident, and make the right shot selection, but still make a mistake. If this is the case, there is no reason to be angry. There is nothing more you could have done. You just got a little unlucky. Next time, you will most likely make it. You shouldn’t get mad over things you can’t control, because there’s nothing you can do about it.  Rafael Nadal says, “I don’t get upset after being aced. It’s like the rain, I just have to let it pass.” Remember this the next time you make a mistake after seemingly playing your best.

  • However, some mistakes are actually caused by something you did wrong. If this is the case, remember that getting mad may only make things worse. Diagnose your mistake then calmly make corrections. You can tell yourself, “I forgot to set my feet properly. But that’s OK, sometimes I forget. I will remember to do it next time. It was just one point. The match isn’t over yet.” Not being a perfectionist, and understanding that mistakes are common can help lead to neutral judgements.

  • Accepting your true skill level is another way to create neutral judgements. If you are making many mistakes, you could simply admit that you have a lot to improving to do. If you want to stop making mistakes, stop crying about it and do something about it. Practice hard so you won’t make the same mistakes again.

  • Focusing on the bright side neutralizes negative thoughts. You may have missed the shot, but at least you made the right shot selection and had good footwork.

  • One way to prevent negative judgements/thoughts from entering your mind in the first place is to occupy yourself in between plays. Focus on your breathing or your pre-play ritual to stay focused and prevent negative thinking.

  • Having neutral judgements after winning points is also important. After winning a point, you could say “It’s just one point. I can’t get complacent. I still need to win many more points to win the match.”

Certain events make it harder to stay neutral than others. Losing a big point, being cheated, or trash-talked often lead to negative judgements and emotions. But with practice, you will be able maintain composure after these events as well.

Remember, not every judgment has to be neutral. If you make an incredible shot, be happy. If you are playing with unacceptable laziness, you can get mad.

Controlling your thoughts and judgements can be hard. Getting mad about getting mad only makes things worse. If you happen to lose control over your emotions, just accept it, and calmly try to shift your attention. It’s like meditation.

The goal of controlling your thoughts and emotions is to maintain peak performance for each play; to play each point with the same amount of motivation, confidence, relaxation, and intelligence. By managing your emotions better, you will better be able to do this and reach peak performance.