Emotions are inevitable physiological and psychological responses, and their management is a fundamental skill set among elite athletes. Competitive sports trigger complex mixes of sentiments, which impact the ability of an individual to perform optimally and achieve the desired results. Consequently, sportspeople utilize various strategies to effectively regulate their emotions by influencing such aspects as the intensity and selection of action responses. For instance, in a high-stakes football match, a player may feel intense anger after receiving a potentially dangerous tackle, which could adversely affect their attentional states and impede the attainment of optimal performance. However, such an athlete can utilize such emotional management strategies as cognitive change, response modulation, attentional deployment, situation modification, and selection to channel their responses constructively and avoid such occurrences as aggressive confrontations. In this regard, consistent emotional composure is a fundamentally influential attribute that drains an athlete’s resources and negatively impacts their performance if poorly managed. Although emotions help to adapt to their current environmental demands, their management is critical since they impact performance by altering an athlete’s physiological and attentional states.
Emotions in Sports
Competitive sporting events are characterized by intense emotional sensations, which necessitate the development of effective management and control skills among athletes. Robazza and Ruiz (2018) contend that feelings constitute multifaceted sensations involving interrelated psychological, cognitive, physiological, and motivational components. They play an integral role in such aspects as human adaptation and performance through their influence on interpersonal interactions, decision-making, sensory intake, behavioral readiness responses, and detection of relevant stimuli. These advantageous effects enhance athletes’ overall human health and performance in their endeavors (Yang et al., 2020). Conversely, maladaptive emotions distract a performer from maintaining optimal attentional levels and hamper their ability to focus more intently on the task ahead. In this regard, it is imperative for elite athletes to effectively manage their emotions to achieve beneficial effects and deal with unfavorable circumstances.
Elite athletes modify their emotions by actively choosing activities in which to engage. Situation selection is the process through which a person determines the circumstances, contexts, and actions to participate in or avoid depending on their anticipated emotional impact. Comparatively, situation selection is a remarkably effective emotion management strategy as it determines the subsequent series of reactions (Webb et al., 2017). This approach underpins the inevitability of intense feelings in elite athletes and recognizes the essence of initiating effective control to avoid undesirable outcomes. In this regard, the primary objective of this strategy is to enable a sportsperson to take prudent actions after encountering a given emotion.
The most widely deployed tactics in situation selection are confrontation and avoidance. Webb et al. (2017) contend that the two approaches are forward-looking and proactive, requiring an individual to anticipate the outcomes of a situation before opting to execute a given action. Confrontation is deciding to face a given phenomenon, notwithstanding the unpleasant feelings arising from the choice taken (Yang et al., 2017). For instance, a soccer player may assume the responsibility of taking a potentially decisive penalty kick at a crucial stage of a tightly contested match. Such a decision would entail downregulating the intense feelings of anxiety and fear due to the nature of the challenge. Such a decision emanates from the player’s ability to interpret the intense anxiety desirably, view the enormous task positively, and enhance their focus on the intended outcome.
Conversely, avoidance would be a better option if the results of the player’s action would generate more detrimental effects or erode future benefits. For instance, in the given scenario, the player can decide to transfer the responsibility of taking the penalty to a rested teammate whose performance and focus are not hampered by fatigue. In this regard, situation selection allows an athlete to channel their emotional responses constructively, sustain focus on the desired objective, and maintain optimal arousal levels to meet the demands of given sporting activity.
Situation modification is an emotion management strategy through which an athlete alters the distinctive attributes and aspects of a given scenario with the aim of changing its sentimental effects. This implies that the modifications are targeted towards the external attributes of the environment and encompass such alternatives as conflict resolution, support-seeking, distraction, and direct adjustment of the situation. According to van Bockstaele et al. (2020), situation adjustment helps individuals to effectively downregulate and exert greater control of intense negative feelings and their impacts. This implies that situation modification is primarily a problem-oriented coping mechanism that allows athletes to regulate their emotions fully. For instance, a football player may opt to stay down momentarily after receiving a potentially dangerous challenge to allow the anger to subside instead of confronting the offending opponent.
Situation modification is intended to suppress negative emotions, which, if not addressed, would lead to adversarial outcomes. The strategy is seen as the implementation of direct efforts to change its emotional impact (Torrence & Connelly, 2018). From this perspective, situation alteration seeks to manage the problem that triggers the emotions and prevents further deterioration of the circumstance. Torrence and Connelly (2018) contend that this coping mechanism is a distinctively effective adaptive strategy that reduces the potential of detrimental reactions and promotes positive responses. For instance, an athlete may decide to seek the support of the teammates and the referee to persuade the other team to observe safety instead of allowing the offended player to engage with the opponents directly. In this regard, situation modification enables athletes to exert greater control of their emotions, channel reactions constructively, avoid detrimental outcomes, and maintain focus.
In competitive sports, athletes are often required to direct their attention to different aspects of a scenario to increase or decrease the eventuality of specific emotions and alter their effects. The two widely practiced approaches for this emotion management strategy are concentration and distraction (Torrence & Connelly, 2018). The theoretical underpinning of concentration is that an athlete who enhances the focus on their feelings significantly boosts the potential of their functional regulation (Molina et al., 2018). Although this option may intensify unpleasant emotions and exacerbate the situation, it is desirable for instrumental purposes in such combat sports as wrestling. Similarly, a basketball player can amplify their attention on the forthcoming service of a ball instead of regurgitating a passing error from a teammate. From this dimension, the player can sustain optimal performance by concentrating on the impending demands of the game.
Conversely, the distraction allows an athlete to redirect their focus and attention to non-emotional aspects of the situation. For instance, an athlete may divert their mindfulness from the negative emotions from a feedback session and channel their awareness to a decision-making process of how to best capitalize on a previously wasted opportunity. This implies that the sportsperson effectively diminishes the potential of losing focus on the overarching objective of delivering optimal performance while intensifying their attention and mindfulness to non-emotional aspects. Ultimately, the strategy allows the athlete to achieve and maintain mental composure and discourage thoughts and emotions that impede their athletic ability.
Elite Athletes determine what perspectives and meanings to accord a given situation. Cognitive change entails reframing the significance and thoughts arising from a given situation to alter one’s feelings or reactivity (Domaradzaka & Fajkowska, 2018). It encompasses such strategies as self-efficacy and positive appraisal, which are critical variables that influence a performer’s effectiveness in an event. For instance, an evaluation of past positive performances could trigger self-motivation and intensify focus. Similarly, underperformance can be perceived as a challenge and demand that an athlete manages their internal resources to meet the requirements of the task ahead.
Impacts of Negatively Charged Emotions
Negatively charged emotions generate conflicting consequences, including beneficial and detrimental impacts. This implies that a negative feeling can lead to both positive and adversarial outcomes (An et al., 2017). The physiological and psychological reactions triggered by a given sentiment can potentially enhance an athlete’s focus or distract them from the demands and objectives of an endeavor. For instance, a negative emotional outburst following a teammate’s error can cause frustration and tension, which would ultimately impede performance. Conversely, strong negative sentiments can help a team intensify their focus on their goal and promote the abilities and determination of a team. Therefore, negatively charged emotions can contribute to the improvement of an athlete’s overall performance or distract a performer from attaining and sustaining optimal levels of focus.
Emotions are inevitable physiological and psychological reactions and play an integral role in sports performance. These feelings have the potential of distracting an athlete from achieving and sustaining optimal activation and focus levels. Consequently, emotional management and regulation are vital skills for elite athletes. It allows sportspeople to channel their emotions and subsequent reactions constructively. Athletes commonly utilize such strategies as cognitive change, attentional deployment, situation modification, and selection to manage their emotions and enhance their overall athletic performance effectively.
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