Traditionally the field of Sport Psychology has recommended strategies like controlling difficult emotions to feel better- because we know when we feel better it’s easier to commit to helpful actions.
Similarly, the recommended goal to do with anxious, angry, or outcome thoughts has been to avoid or reduce them.
When done successfully this helps players in the short term.... but there are 2 problems with this approach that tend to lead to big problems in the long term.
1.) Because the thoughts and feelings that show up during competition are based on the situation and our history within similar circumstances (including human evolutionary history), these strategies are very hard to do effectively when players most want them to work.
2.) In the long term players become less ‘fit’ in being able to tolerate internal difficulties, and more reliant on having to feel good to play good. This in turn tends to lead to players experiencing more difficult thoughts and feelings during matches, not less.
So, the next time you recommend to a player/your child that they try to control emotions or stop unintentional thoughts ask yourself these 2 questions:
How likely is it that they can do what I'm asking? and...
How will this advice shape the player’s ability to respond well to internal difficulties in the long term?
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