Back to anger for a moment. Anger mobilizes more lighting energy to an athlete when he or she needs it most, says sport psychologist James Loehr.
Nervousness and fear make you more helpless and passive and you can’t get close to your performance potential. In the fight-or-flight response, fear is designed to help you run away from a threat, but in sports that never works. Some athletes blow fear away by getting angry or more aggressive. That changes the biochemical pathways in the adrenal glands. If you look on a situation as too much of a threat, you produce too much cortisol, but when you look on things as a challenge, with spirit and fight, it activates the adrenal medulla system to produce adrenaline and noradrenaline.
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Loehr is president and CEO of Sport Science Inc., a research and training facility in Orlando, Florida, which trains athletes, FBI, and police swat teams with the same techniques in response to pressure situations. In sports, Michael Jordan uses this nervousness-to-challenge-to aggressiveness technique effectively, Loehr says. He knows that emotions mean mind-body chemistry. He’s become almost a Zen master in his ability to control hidden emotions, breathing, and heart rate. Loehr adds that, in his prime, tennis player John McEnroe was successful by venting anger towards officials, opponents, and fans, to take the advantage away from his own nervousness. After an outburst, (McEnroe) would become quiet and go through a set of rituals to bring his concentration back. It worked for him, but his rage for perfection was too much over his career. It ruined his enjoyment of the game and for him tennis became too much of a war. Anger can work for you at times, but I do not recommend it.
Rick Smith, golf coach for the 1993 U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, advises golfers to mentally become more aggressive when
John McEnroe was widely criticized for venting his anger at officials faced with adversity. Take your anger to a place where it toughens you, he says.
Certain people can’t do it. They’re already thinking about their failure. You have to look forward to the task in front of you. It’s like a mudder, playing golf in the rain. It might be a lousy day, but this guy says Great, because I know everybody else will be complaining. You take it as a positive and say This is my opportunity. It’s just that some people are better at it than others. A great player is one who does not mind when everybody else is complaining.
While many athletes create tremendous long-term emotional drive by taking this personally, removing ego at the right time can reap rewards. In a NBA playoff game in the 1970s, guard Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks was punched in the face by an opponent, but strangely, the foul was called on Frazier. But instead of exploding, Frazier turned his intensity into his basketball skills. In fact, the expression on his face didn’t change. He simply called for the ball and sank seven straight shots to win the game an amazing display of productive anger, according to writer John Leo.
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