A junior tennis player is experiencing emotional ups and downs during competition, and when the competition becomes toughest, late in tournament play, he rarely plays up to his potential. Young players that have promising talent and ability in sport may be receiving added stress from their coach, parents, or themselves (Taylor, 1992). With this added pressure/stress, they have a difficult time focusing on the task/competition at hand. Even though they are physically capable of out playing everyone they face, they allow added stress to effect their emotions. This is usually caused by the lack of the ability and experience to manage and cope with these emotions and stresses (Jones, 2003). Being able to learn to adapt on the fly and cope, will allow this athlete to eventually play at his potential.
First off, this athlete, being a junior competitor, more than likely has difficulty coping with stress and emotions while in competition. His lack of knowledge and experience dealing with these issues makes it difficult to let go and move on.
My initial analysis of this athlete is that he's allowing his arousal levels to get too high, which narrows his focus. According to Gill and Williams (2008), when arousal levels increase beyond the optimal level, emotional control is needed. Most strategies for stress management involve relaxation methods. Also, overarousal initially increases either physiological arousal and cognitive worry can quickly create a negative thought-anxiety cycle; worry and increases in arousal create a negative cycle that decreases performance (Gill & Williams, 2008). Mayer and Salovey's model of emotional intelligence includes 4 branches: (1) emotional perceptions and expression, (2) emotional facilitation of thought, (3) emotional understanding, and (4) emotional management. These skills allow a person to benefit from being able to control emotion during specific skills.
Lauer's developed the three Rs; react, relax, and refocus. People who struggle with emotional control first need to react; recognize the negative emotion, feel it, but don't let it control you. Next they need to relax, or calm down; using deep breathing, self-talk, or imagery to respond positively. Lastly, refocus and return to play (Gill & Williams, 2008).
First off I will have a meeting with the athlete, sit down with him and discuss how he feels during competition. I would like to understand how and what he is feeling; physically and emotionally. This will allow me to put a plan of attack together to help this junior tennis player learn to cope and redirect negative emotion and stress towards positive action/performance.
First, I will teach him how to recognize that he is losing control of his emotions. The ability to recognize this is the first step in taking action to overcome and being able to react. I will teach the athlete to acquire feedback from his body, physically and emotionally. This could mean being able to notice muscle tension, fear, sickness, heartbeat, fatigue, etc...
Once he able to notice these "red flags," I will teach him ways of relaxing, the second R. Breathing exercises are the simplest and most effective relaxation techniques, slow, deep breathing (Gill & Williams, 2008). Its an effective way to control respiration rate, heart rate, and body temperature. Some of these physiological responses are more difficult than others to control, but deep breathing can contribute to all. For muscle tension, teaching this athlete to use progressive relaxation to assist in the release of tension is a popular method used by athletes. The progressive tensing and relaxing of tense muscle groups helps release the tension, relaxing the muscle(s) (Gill & Williams, 2008). Meditation and autogenic training are other methods that may be used to to relax, however, they are more difficult to use and learn. Which with a young athlete, deep breathing and progressive relaxation may be easiest to teach and most effective methods to use.
Lastly, teaching the athlete to refocus, after reacting/noticing the stress or loss of control and relaxing, and return to play immediately, and using the redirected control towards positive play. Using a verbal cue, word or phase, that the athlete will use as a "switch" to forget about the past event and focus on the play at hand or upcoming.
In conclusion, being able to use the three Rs was my main focus for this athlete. Being able to react, relax, and refocus during competition is vital for this athlete to play at his potential. For him to be able to control his emotional ups and downs throughout play using various techniques, simple yet effective techniques, were the main focus for an athlete his age, and as he develops, teach him more difficult relaxation techniques. This athlete allows himself to lose control of his emotions which decreases performance, based on the anxiety cycle. Also, according to the emotional intelligence model, being able to identify, redirect thought, understand, and monitor his emotions, he can return to play, more importantly, positive play.
Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jones, M. V. (2003). Controlling emotions in sport. The Sport Psychologist, 17, 471-486.
Taylor, J. (1992). Coaches are people too: An applied model of stress management for sports coaches. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 4(1), 27-50.