WHAT: In the case study proposed you work at a camp for talented junior tennis players. One of the athletes you work with is a promising young player, which has emotional ups and downs with every match. His emotional ups and downs correspond closely with his play level. During matches he easily gets upset at errors, calls, and his opponents moves. Unfortunately even when things go well for him he seems on edge. Due to these emotions he rarely plays to his best ability, especially when competition is the toughest in the final rounds of tournaments. Although he has the potential to defeat many opponents he faces, the stressors of the game effect his emotions, which cause him to lose focus on the competition. As a mentor for young athletes you have a great opportunity to encourage them to use stress management strategies and emotional control measures, both of which may be extremely helpful for this athlete. If he’s better able to manage stressors during the game and control his emotions he may be able to play to his full potential.
SO WHAT: In sport and exercise emotion and stress have a huge impact on performance. An athlete’s inability to manage these stressors and emotions often times have a huge effect on athletic performance (Jones, 2003). Both stress management and emotional control skills can improve performance, as well as develop important life skills. There are certain events during athletics which can and can’t be controlled by the individual. As a young athlete he should learn to not lose emotional control over the things that he can’t control, for example missed calls and opponents moves. Burnout is another factor which may effect athletic performance. Burnout is defined as a consequence of prolonged stress that may result in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of meaning or personal accomplishment (Gill & Williams, 2008). By the use of effective stress management techniques and emotional control strategies this athlete can improve his performance.
NOW WHAT: The first thing I would do with this athlete is sitting down with him and explaining how the use of stress management and emotional control skills can be effective in improving performance. I’d also help this athlete acknowledge what things stress him out during play and what events make him lose emotional control. For this athlete missed calls, errors, and his opponents moves all factor in his stress level and emotional response.
Next I’d teach this athlete some effective stress management techniques. One effective stress management technique is simply learning how anxiety impacts performance. A common mistake made by some athletes is “psyching up” prior to performance. Contrary to many athletes beliefs, having a high arousal is not most effective, instead a low arousal is the optimal state for most sport and exercise activities. Athletes should be alert and attentive, but be free of worry and muscle tension. The athlete should aim for a controlled, relaxed state prior to and during performance (Gill & Williams, 2008). This can be achieved by simply talking with the athlete to eliminate ineffective approaches to stress management, this can be as simple as identifying how the athlete acts prior to competition and encouraging him to keep a controlled, relaxed state.
Another effective stress management method is the use of attention control strategies. Attention control strategies, such as thought stopping, may be an effective way to help someone direct attention away from worry and toward something else. For this athlete it may be effective to encourage him to stop getting so upset with his opponents’ moves and focus more on his own.
Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, meditation, and autogenic training can all be effective stress management techniques (Gill & Williams, 2008). For this athlete I think breathing exercises can be the most effective way of managing stress during matches. Breathing techniques emphasize slow, deep breathing; increasing respiration rate which in turn decreases anxiety. You may encourage this athlete to use breathing techniques prior to serves or when things occur during matches that make him upset, for example bad calls, errors, or his opponent scoring points.
Emotional control methods can also be an effective way to improve this athlete’s performance. One effective emotional control method focuses on the three R’s – react, relax, and refocus. Athletes using this strategy first react; they recognize negative emotion but do not let it control them. Next they relax using the techniques I’ve explained above including: thought stopping and breathing techniques. Lastly the athlete refocuses on the task at hand. As a tennis player anger and aggression towards the opponent may not be the biggest worry. However anger towards oneself after making mistakes may be a problem. This athlete could use the 3 R’s method effectively when he makes errors during play. If used effectively this could help him control his emotions which in turn will improve his overall performance.
CONCLUSION: As a young athletes mentor you can be very influential in their development as a player, and as a person in general. Stress management strategies such as thought stopping and breathing exercises can be very effective if used at the right time during play. Methods like Lauers 3 R’s can be effective emotional control skills, which if developed in young athletes can greatly increase athletic performance. Being able to identify stressors and loss of emotional control, along with the use of the techniques I’ve described can allow a young athlete to perform at their highest level, but more importantly grow as an individual.
Gill, D.L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jones, M.V. (2003). Controlling emotions in sport. The Sport Psychologist, 17, 471-486.