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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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4 Managing your emotions and anxiety

Psychologists working in all fields of human endeavour are seeking ways of helping people deal with fear and anxiety. Fear is not just about primitive threats to life; it is also about the broader range of negative emotions and anxieties that can sabotage even simple tasks. The causes of this fear could be a phobia about spiders, threats to one’s self-esteem (e.g. asking for a date) or the stressful situations athletes face.

Over the years, psychologists have developed ways of helping people to distract themselves from focusing too much on negative emotions and thoughts. One example is psychiatrist Steve Peters, who talks of a primitive chimp-like voice representing a part of the brain. This echoes with our primitive evolutionary past, which Ben Seymour spoke of in the ski racing film in Activity 2. This reference to a chimp is a teaching tool that helps people understand and thus control their emotions better. In the next activity, you will hear directly from multiple snooker world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan on how he learnt to control his negative emotions with the help of Steve Peters. This falls under the ‘resilience and self-regulation’ part of PCDEs.

Activity 3 Controlling your emotions in sport

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the video below. How did Ronnie O’Sullivan develop his understanding that enabled him to help control his emotions?

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Ronnie O’Sullivan on controlling his emotions
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Ronnie learned to understand himself better by looking at what stimulates his emotions. In particular, he learnt that the conflict in his mind between the logical self and more emotional self could be controlled. By embracing Steve Peters’ ‘chimp’ model, he was able to distance himself from the emotional part of his brain by talking about it in the third person (i.e. ‘sometimes I can fire him up and sometimes I can take him down’ (O’Sullivan, 2013)). Thinking about emotion as a detached third person in itself is likely to make it easier to regulate and control.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2013) has also reported a five-point ‘anchor’ that helped control his emotions, which is summarised below:

  1. Do my best; that’s all I can do.
  2. I want to be here competing.
  3. I’m an adult, not a chimp. I can deal with anything.
  4. It’s impossible to play well all the time.
  5. What would I say to my children if they said their game was not right?

Again, you can see these statements reinforce his logical self, rather than any emotional impulses, and help displace negative thoughts.