Anger Management: Managing by Negative Example

Friday, February 25th, 2011

“Anger” is a powerful emotion which, when channeled properly can motivate and inspire us to do heroic things, perform at our best and even push us to do more than we ever thought possible. Sadly, especially in sports, anger is “mismanaged” and “unregulated” resulting in unpleasantness not only for the angry person but for all those exposed to him or her.

Since we all learn, to some extent by watching others and give extra attention to those who are famous or excel in sports, these “celebrities” can exert strong influence on our own reactions to adverse situation. Fortunately, we can use their occasional “bad displays” of behavior to take a different path when faced with similar circumstances and frustrations.

Recently, I was watching a tennis match between tennis legend and former world champion, John McEnroe. He was getting killed by an opponent and rather than give credit to the excellent play of his opponent or accept his own occasional lapses in performance, in typical McEnroe style, he would find fault with the calls, intimidate the lines people and even yell and scream at the chair umpire. Upon hitting a double fault (totally his own fault), he would then whack a ball into the stadium.

Such outrageous behavior is totally against the rules of the game and the umpire should have penalized him. McEnroe does this to try to pump himself up, distract his opponent, and intimidate the officials so he can perhaps get a favorable call or two later on. I believe some of it is just a conditioned reaction to his intolerance for others and his intensely self-critical nature.

As we watch this behavior unfold a good take away would be to feel sorry for McEnroe. How sad it must be to have such little control over his emotions and to go through life living at the edge of an explosion. How embarrassing it must be to his friends and family to see the whining, complaining and cry baby behaviors of a grown adult unfold in public before an audience of millions.

Whenever you witness this type of anger problem in someone, let it be a trigger for you to say to yourself, That’s bad. I don’t want to ever behave that way.” “I’m in control of my emotions.” “I will find a better way to handle my frustrations and disappointments.”

In my role as a sports psychologist, I teach my clients these and other tools from cognitive therapy help them more effective “manage their emotions”, “tame their anger”

Overcoming Self-Deception

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Self deception is a form of rationalization. It is an attempt to help you avoid facing or dealing with the truth, which can be difficult to accept at times. The teacher tells the student to “sit down”. The student complies but says to himself, “I was tired of standing up anyway”.

As a sports psychologist I often work with young athletes and their parents. Recently, I evaluated a young tennis player who wasn’t performing to her abilities and had been underperforming for some time. We identified a number of factors that were inhibiting her performance. Rather than accepting the evaluation and help to directly improve the situation, the parent and youngster interpreted the problems as “normal” and to wait and see if she would mature and grow out of it. If she was having a problem with her forehand and a pro recommended a change, would she accept the fact and do the work or wait for improvement to occur on its own?

Self-deception and rationalization is also alive and well in the professional ranks as well.

A top player on the women’s tennis tour, was well known for losing her temper during matches and losing matches as a result!  As she was being interviewed, there were clips of her exploding and losing it in various matches as she was explaining that she is an “emotional” player and needs to express her emotions to play better.

The truth is most individuals still have a hard time accepting the fact that their mental and emotional state often times interfere with their performing at their best and only by working and training on specific mind-body skills can they hope to consistently perform at their best.

I once heard, “it is not practice that makes perfect, but practicing more perfectly that does.”

I welcome your thoughts and comments. Send them to Dr.Robert Heller at  If  you are living or traveling to S. Florida, I am located in Boca Raton and would be happy to work with you on developing your mental toughness skills.

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