Emotions, Mindfulness and the Competitive Edge

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The bottom line is you can’t be afraid to fail

Jerry Colangelo

Emotions in sports can be a BIG game changer. There are times when emotions like anger can produce great focus and determination. Other times, anger can lead to stupid decisions, like the obvious foul in basketball. More and more research is looking at the connections between emotions and actions. For example, did you know that just changing your body posture can alter your emotions and thoughts?
Mental Mistake Katie Hoff 2008
Antonia Damasio, a neuroscientist from the University of Southern California, says, “It is common to look at emotions as something in relation to other people, but emotions have to do with how we deal with the environment, such as threats and opportunities.” This is helpful for athletes to know. Here’s why. Athletes are constantly being faced with how to look at competition…..either as a threat or an opportunity.

Creating Opportunities-The Competitive Edge

Threats and opportunities are determined by perception. How an athlete sees a situation in a game or a competition can make or break an athletic performance. For example, imagine playing college basketball. A point guard might look for opportunities to notice or sense when an opponent is getting frustrated.  Many factors cause frustration: tough defense, missed shots, missed free throws, and even one’s own teammates. These moments can be used to gain a competitive edge by being aware, noticing that this is happenin0g, and seeing this as an opportunity. Thus, an athlete can decide instantly to increase pressure and gain a competitive mental edge. This increase in intensity can creates that feeling of threat to the other player, and when she is already frustrated this can cause further opportunities to out-perform her through exertion and mental toughness.

Competitive Edge 1Handling Threats

It is also important to know this works in reverse. An athlete might have moments during competition when they become rattled by the threat from an opponent, such as a runner going past you. The fear of losing might set in.
In other words, an athlete can lose their own my mental toughness by letting emotions such as fear or frustration gain momentum. Opponents often recognize this and then apply even more pressure to gain the competitive edge. These can turn into momentum shifts and every athlete has seen those happen, either in a positive or negative direction!
In those moments every athlete has a choice to make. How do I make this an opportunity? How can I stay focused and up my game? Will I see this as a threat or an opportunity? Have you ever competed “not to lose” instead of “to win”? That is the idea of threat.
This choice is a mental skill that can be practiced and coached.  It involves an understanding and application of the 3A’s of Mindfulness: Awareness, Acceptance and Action. Keep in mind, this choice takes place within a fleeting moment in time. This is the main reason why practicing mindfulness is so critical.

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