‘Calm down dear, it’s only a game!’


As regular followers or close friends will know, I have a fascination with the psychology that is involved in sport. I have touched on it a few times throughout my blogs but my first real article dedicated to it was ‘The Greatest Battle,’ which focused on depression in professional sport. This week I am going to focus on the extraordinary range of emotions sports put their players through and how hard it can be to control them.

Everyone who is involved in sport for a living is immensely passionate for it – they must be, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. It requires a huge amount of dedication to turn away from an ‘easy career’ in some dead-end job, stuck in a sweaty office in a city full of people you don’t know and don’t particularly want to know. Actually, that makes it sound like it’s an easy choice to leave that sort of profession! But to make it in professional sport – whether it be as a player, coach or analyst – you have to have a fascination for it that most would class as unnatural. It isn’t right really, to be that addicted to something, but that is what is go great – you can be abnormally passionate about it without having to worry about the damage it can cause you, something that’s not the case with drugs, alcohol etc. Professional sport is such a competitive industry that you have to have something unique that makes you stand out from the rest. If you don’t have it, then your chances of success are hugely limited.

There are times, though, when this passion translates itself into a negative form of behaviour that isn’t so desirable. If you are out of form, whether it be not being able to score runs in cricket or consistent poor performances in netball, your obsession for the sport can actually make matters worse. You are so desperate to perform that you put huge pressure on yourself and, as a consequence, make matters worse. This leads to a further loss of self-confidence, more poor performances and, as a result, you will lose your love for the game. Fernando Torres is a prime example of this – he has struggled hugely at Chelsea after his £50million move from Liverpool in January 2011. He arrived at The Blues on the back of a relatively poor run of form and he was so desperate to put this right at his new club that he almost over-tried – his performances were far from his best and it resulted in a huge loss of confidence. Even now, two and a half years later, the Spaniard is still suffering from this, although things are looking up after he scored 23 goals in the season just finished. Some may disagree with me, saying it was the immense pressure of the price tag and the prestige of the club that caused his disastrous loss of form. While I acknowledge this may well have played a part, I think that if you dig down to the root of the problem then you’ll find that his passion for football is there at the heart of it.

The other, and potentially more dangerous, way your passion can negatively affect you as a sportsman or woman is that if it clouds your judgement and leads to you losing your temper. Anger, as any psychologist will tell you, is a good thing to have. It’s one of the few emotions that everyone will feel at some point in their lives and is beneficial in moderation. However excess anger, channelled with an inability to control it, is not a good combination. For the professional sporting stars, it can mean a damaged reputation at best and the end of their careers at worst. All performers will become frustrated and angry if they or their team aren’t performing as they should be or they feel decisions made against them have been unfair – it’s a right of passage. But for some this, coupled with their passion for the game, leads to actions that have no place in sport or society. Whether it be someone making a dangerous tackle, throwing a punch or threatening to hit their opponents with a piece of equipment (as the Indian cricketer Javed Miandad famously did to Aussie fast bowler Dennis Lillee, holding his bat high above his head as though it was a club), failure to control your anger is a huge problem that our heroes have to conquer.

Some sports, such as ice hockey and rugby union to an extent, encourage these physical acts as it is part of the game. There are some incidents where it can go a bit far however, such as when Manu Tuilagi laid into Chris Ashton in an Aviva Premiership game a couple of years ago. Such incidents are normally isolated, though, and there are few who have more than one incident of ‘rage’ in their professional careers. But, sadly, there are some who cannot control their tempers. Dylan Hartley, the England hooker, recently threw away his opportunity to tour Australia with the Lions because of his inability to keep his mouth shut and insulting the referee when things got a bit tense in the recent Premiership final. This follows a string of incidents that have seen him banned far too many times for his own good. His ‘uncontrollable’ temper has left him with a sour reputation and has meant he has missed a chance to go on the biggest tour in rugby union, something that he’ll probably be too old to do when it next comes around in four years time.

‘What about Luis Suarez? Surely he has anger management issues?’ While it is true that the Uruguayan has been seeing an anger management specialist following his disgusting incident with Branislav Ivanovic, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. I don’t particularly think he has issues controlling his temper, more trouble understanding what is acceptable in our society. As proved with the racism saga with Patrice Evra, which saw him banned for eight matches, I don’t think Suarez quite understands what we do and do not accept over here in Britain. I’m not in any way saying we are better than Uruguay, but that we are different from them and do things differently. For him, anger management isn’t as much of a problem as it is for some in my opinion.

With an increasing involvement of psychology in today’s sporting world, there is a much greater opportunity for the stars to find solutions to control their temper and passion to make sure it doesn’t boil over. For us amateurs, however, things aren’t quite so easy. There are many articles on the Internet that tell us what to do and how to do it but, without the aid of a professional, this is quite hard to implement on our lifestyle. Personally, I have found that none of the recommended techniques has worked and my anger is still a huge issue for me, both in terms of sport and personal relationships. It’s not because I don’t want it to work, it’s because I need someone to help me adjust the techniques in a way to suit me and my personality. It’s not all doom and gloom for us though and I think within a the next 20 years psychological help will be as readily available as any other form of treatment. Until then, keep your anger in check!

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