Containing your emotions throughout the game
Just a moment ago, everything seemed perfect. You had your opponent running back and forth, all your shots were placed precisely, and victory was just around the corner. Out of nowhere, that beautiful forehand stopped working. You feel overwhelmed. Four straight missed points, and you’re about ready to throw the racket in your hand and yell in frustration.
Any of this sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This feeling of anger and frustration, known as court rage or racket rage, happens to athletes at all levels. Similar to road rage when one is behind the wheel, court rage is the same aggressive behavior displayed by a tennis player on the court. Behaviors like yelling and putting up rude gestures are common in both, while the unsafe driving on the road is paralleled by deliberately throwing one’s racket at the ground, net, or fence.
While we aim to teach our kids about sportsmanship and controlling one’s emotions, it’s not as if we’re getting much help from their role models. Professional tennis players act out on a regular basis nowadays, allowing kids to think that yelling or breaking a racket is no big deal.
Guess what? It is a big deal. Tennis is a gentleman’s sport, where the proper behavior is expected.
In a contact sport like football or basketball, anger can be channelled into physical exertion. On the other hand, tennis is a refined sport, and as a result, anger is most likely followed soon after by defeat. Simply put, a tennis player’s biggest enemy is anger.
What exactly happens during this so-called court rage?
To better understand that, we have to look at the basic physiology of anger. As you get angry, your body’s muscles tense up. It increases your blood pressure as well as your heart rate. There’s a short-term benefit as more adrenaline is pumped through your system, and chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing a short-term burst of energy. It is this chemical release that makes us grit our teeth, ready to burst with emotion after two straight missed points.
Keep in mind, anger can potentially be a great short-term motivator; however, it is hardly a good long-term solution. In a tennis match that lasts multiple hours, it is difficult to relax from an angry state. The adrenaline-caused stimulation that occurs during anger can last for hours at once, lowering our anger threshold. This makes it easier for us to get angry again later on. It takes you out of your own game and doesn’t let you back.
Disregarding all the science, the impact of uncontrolled emotions on athletic performance is fairly obvious. When you get angry about a missed shot or bad play, the first thing to disappear is your focus. Instead of focusing on the next play to redeem yourself, you’ll most likely get bogged down on what happened previously. This loss of focus leads to more missed points, and more anger. It’s a nasty cycle to get lost in. Players who are studs in practice often fold under the pressure in tournaments because they manage stress inefficiently. Learning how to cope with failure and frustration is a vital part of a young athlete’s journey.
Athletes, parents, and coaches must be able to identify individual triggers for this anger and be able to productively deal with it. Every athlete is different, what may tick off one person won’t affect another. There are a range of techniques a trained professional will be able to suggest to better cope with anger. From basic mental relaxation techniques like counting slowly in your head, to talking to yourself and remembering tennis is meant to be fun, to even delaying the outburst, a professional within the sports psychology field can help you get over this mental hurdle.
Whether it’s on the tennis court or in the line at the local market, we’ve all seen people remain extremely calm. They are on top of their emotions and nothing seems to faze them. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that these people have no temper. Rather, they’ve just learned to be in control of their emotions and keep their composure in the toughest of times.
Given the right techniques, you can too.
Tennis, or any activity for that manner, is meant to be an escape from other realities of life; let’s not turn this into a chore as well.