Anger is a normal emotional response to certain situations. In fact, most athletes will at times, be angry. Others will even lose their cool. The key is managing it in small and big ways and expressing it in a constructive way. In fact, it can be more healthy to express anger rather than keep it bottled up.
However, if you notice that your anger is causing more problems for you, such as poor relationships with others or getting you or your team too many penalties in a game, you might have an anger management problem. Furthermore, if you express it in a destructive and violent way, then using some tools on a regular basis may help to control your reactions.
Anger Management Techniques
1. Exercise Helps
Most athletes already exercise but if you stop for some reason, such as having an injury or your season comes to an end and you have a break, be aware that maintaining some type of exercise program can be very helpful. Exercising plays a role in helping to regulate adrenaline levels and the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in your body. Also, exercising is a great way to help you reduce your stress levels and increase the feeling of being more relaxed. Sometimes, it is just a good idea to put all of our energy, frustration, and anger into training. Think about this, instead of self-destructing or attempting to hurt others because of your anger, wouldn’t it be better if you would focus it on something positive like working on yourself in some way?
2. Take Scheduled Breaks
One of the reasons why we can become stressed or frustrated is because we sometimes work for long periods without taking a break. It is important to know how to check-in with yourself periodically throughout the day or during a high-intensity training time. The check-in can take a minute or two or last even longer, like ten minutes. The idea is to scan your body for tension and take some good deep breaths and exhales to help relax your body and mind.
Dr. Ken Ravizza, a sport psychologist, reminds athletes to break one’s focus into short segments. This is a great concept for sports and for other areas of life. If you want to prevent stress from the building, and angry outbursts from happening, try taking short breaks throughout a practice or game. If you are working or studying, you may be able to take longer breaks and go for a walk. You might also distract yourself with some music if possible. If not, make sure to take in some long, slow in and out breaths and relax different parts of your body, like your shoulders and neck. You can even set a timer to check in with your body tension every 30 minutes and do some deep breathing.
3. Calm Yourself Prior to Answering
As already mentioned, the solution is not to internalize your anger and never let it out. Instead, it is to find a constructive way to express it. If we are angry with a person we sometimes have to make a choice to take a timeout. In other words, the best choice is sometimes to wait for the storm to pass. When you feel more in control that that is the time to express to the other person what upset you. If you can have a calm conversation about the situation, you and others will get much more out of it than you would have if you had reacted violently. Remember to be assertive but polite. You often will gain a different perspective about an incident when you are not looking at it in the heat of the moment.
4. Plan Challenging Conversations
If you know that you are a person who gets angry easily during conversations, this anger management tip might be of assistance to you. A great way to avoid situations in which you would normally get really angry and destructive is to plan what you want to say before the actual conversation. If you want to talk to a coach about your playing time and not get heated, it helps to imagine the situation and be prepared for several possible scenarios. If you think that whatever the other person will say might make you angry, picturing how you can react calmly can help you feel more prepared in the moment. And if you can practice what your words will be, as well as imagine remaining emotionally calm, you have a better chance of managing your anger and having a productive conversation.
5. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
Sleep is as important as exercising when it comes to managing stress and emotions. Many of you have already noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you tend to be cranky. If you already have some anger management concerns, a lack of sleep and being on edge can be factors with not being able to stay calm under pressure. Basic recommendations for sleep typically are getting about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. But, be aware this number can vary based on age and personal factors. Get to know what is your best amount of sleep time and try to stick to a schedule so this can happen.
6. What’s On Your Plate?
Analyzing your anger is one of the best anger management techniques you could try. It is very helpful to know your triggers associated with anger outbursts. Sometimes there is simply too much on your plate and you are rushed to get everything done. Clean the crumbs (the “not so important” tasks) off your plate and make room for what is most important to you. Athletes are often very busy people as they need to train and work or go to school as well as manage friends and family. Sometimes, learning to say no to something can be a great tool for managing anger.
If you take some time to analyze your anger issue, and to know your triggers, you might find out that there is more to it than you originally imagined. Usually, a person’s anger (especially when it is related to insignificant events) can hide something deeper that needs to be addressed. Depression and other mental health disorders may need to be addressed. Or, maybe learning to be assertive and setting boundaries in a healthy way are needed. These are just some examples and you may have your own discoveries as you take time to analyze and think about the bigger picture.
7. Use Humor
Humor is a great way to reduce stress and let go of what makes you angry. However, we’re not talking about the sarcastic humor you might be tempted to use when you become angry at someone. This can oftentimes be really hurtful to another person, such as a teammate. Try to use some lighthearted humor or find humor in small ways. This will minimize the possibility of something making you extremely angry. Laughter is another very helpful way to reduce stress, relax, and therefore, decrease anger before it builds. A great example is looking at some hilarious videos that will bring an instant endorphin boost. The main idea is to find some tools you can use throughout your day so that your overall anger level and stress level is lower.
Managing anger, on and off the field for athletes, is important and possible. The good news is that there are things you can do to help yourself manage it and express it constructively. But just like any sport, patience, practice, and persistence are keys to using anger management tools and changing behaviors. You may need help from others, such as a sports psychologist. Do what you need to do so you can make anger work for you in a positive way.