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Emotional management in sports can help athletes avoid stress and anxiety |23 January 2023

During my experience as a coach I have often seen and heard about players being under tremendous amount of stress, how they burned with the desire to win or that they were just not in it.

The players haven’t kept their emotions under control during the game. Although it is not easy to do, managing emotion is possible if you have the right tools and the right support. Let`s share the advantages and disadvantages of stress in sport.

Some sports stressors are: no proper training, no match practice, conflict between athletes, unknown opponents, pressure to get results, coaches’ athletes’ conflict, under-performing in training and previous test matches.

All the above can lead to anxiety which are energy drainers: muscular tension, increased heart rate, sweaty palm, mental error, focusing not sharp, mental chatter (negative thinking), tired physically before getting into competition.

When we talk about emotional control in sports and everyday life, we think about avoiding stress.

We perceive stress as very bad and not healthy, it can destroy our health completely; this is not entirely true. Lot of stress occurs during sports and in our lives, it doesn`t destroy our lives.

An athlete who is well prepared can handle a high level of stress during competition. We consider stress as bad when it happens on a daily basis. This kind of stress can affect our lives.

Some of our athletes think that it is normal to react stressfully in stressful situations, then to hold on is not correct. Research has shown that reacting negatively will not help us deal with stress in a productive way, but it will actually have a bad influence on our health, and prolong the stress effect. Managing stress is directly managing your emotion. By controlling our thoughts and behaviour we can control our emotion in a given situation, because our emotions are directly under your thoughts, behaviour and our physiology.

A certain amount of stress is useful because it motivates us to take action and make changes. Without a positive stress (eustress) we would barely achieve anything in life but when stress exceeds tolerance level we lose sense of our control, then we are talking about distress or negative stress. Then our reactions to stress become negative. In such case, it is good to know how to cope with reactions.

When you tell your athletes to take a deep breath with the aim of reducing stress, the athletes will breathe in with their lungs full causing the opposite to the desired one. Athletes should use the belly breathing technique in order to produce the desired effect-relaxation. To learn breathing techniques you should practice them. If you want to learn the skill seek help from your coach or a mental trainer.

It is a misconception that physical, socialisation, preparation of laughter can help combat stress. They can help if they are properly planned and if enough of such activities can compensate for the amount of experience. Exceptionally difficult physical activity can be stressful for a person, and sometimes the very thought of it can cause anxiety. Socialisation is great for someone, but not for all individuals. Some relationship and conversation with people often cause sense of discomfort. Therefore, the types of physical activity and socialisation may have different effects on coping with stress.

So when we talk about emotions, management is a better term than control, because emotions always exist, the only important thing is their intensity and direction in a specific set of circumstances. Regardless of what the emotion management may be like, it is practiced and becomes automated overtime, as is the case with everything else.

We can manage our emotion indirectly by guiding our thoughts, monitoring physiological processes in the body and controlling our behaviour. Emotions are, in fact, reactions to our thoughts which are behaviour and physiology, largely under your control. Since thoughts, behaviours, physiology and emotions are interconnected, using the tools of mental training, with a little practice, we can make some changes and slowly learn how to manage our emotions. If we behave in accordance with our emotions we adopt behaviour patterns which given the large number of repetitions, are very difficult to change. Physiological process in the body, such as level of activation of nervous system intensity, heart rate per minute or hormonal secretion, are an automatic response to our emotional response to our emotional states and events happening in our environment.

One of the first steps in understanding the process of emotional control is to comprehend the process of how thoughts influence emotions.

I will present to you the standard ABC model in psychology.

A (Adverse event) represents an unpleasant and/or unwanted event for an individual, which in a certain set of circumstance which has the potential to cause stressful or unwanted consequences (C).

It’s important to understand that the event has only potential and nothing more. B (belief system) in other words, our convictions and thoughts in that moment determine the consequences. If our thoughts are negative, consequences will also be negative. If our thoughts are positive and we believe that we can successfully deal with the event, then consequences will turn out to be much more positive. In this way, we manage our emotions, direct then where we want them to by controlling our thoughts instead of our thoughts controlling us.

People who have stress and anxiety for over long period of time may experience negative related health outcome like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetic.

Mental training can help you overcome stress before and during competitions.

For more information contact a sports psychologist or a mental coach.

I am looking forward to share more information on mental training in the coming months especially for athletes preparing for the Indian Ocean Islands Games in Madagascar


Certified mental coach Maurice Denys



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