PLAY WITH ALL YOUR HEART : EMOTION IN SPORTS

"Find your heart, and you will find your way." - Carlos Barrios

One of the greatest lessons that we can learn from sports is the ability to become more aware of our emotions. This is somewhat counterintuitive to the idea that boys in sports must be tough and that feelings are for girls. Many boys in our society, and especially in athletics, learn to be completely cut off from their own emotions from a very young age, which can debilitate them for the rest of their lives. The men that I respect the most in my life and the ones who are most fulfilled, are those who are able to feel their emotions. These are the people that I consider mentors and teachers and the following relays some of the lessons that I have learned from them.

Let's first look at why we believe there is no room for feelings or emotions in sports. To begin with, the most extreme outward examples of emotion in sports are rejected by the public. The worst abuse any athlete can take from the general public seems to be when he gets too scared or nervous and ends up "choking". There have actually been cases where athletes have been MURDERED by their fans because they got tight and did not play well! Anger is not tolerated much in athletics either. Players get flagged or ejected for getting too angry and yelling at a ref or getting into a fight. Finally, the old adage, "there's no crying in baseball!" still seems to ring true throughout all sports. Time and time again, I see or hear reporters making fun of athletes who cry after a tough loss or a coach who breaks down when talking to his team. These are the outward signals of emotion that people constantly criticize, put down and are not tolerated in sports. So, what does a young athlete think to himself? I cannot be scared. I cannot be angry. I cannot be sad.

However in athletics, these emotions are going to come up and they are going to be STRONG! I played lacrosse goalie from the time that I was five years old until the time I was 28 and I still went through every one of those emotions throughout the course of a game until the bitter end. Before every game, I would get extremely nervous. When shots would go in, or another player cheap-shotted me, or my defense made a huge mistake, I would get really angry. Finally, when we lost or I had not performed well, I would get sad when it was all over.

Now from what I have learned, there are two ways in which we can deal with emotions. We can either react or we can respond. If we react to our emotions in sports, there will probably be some negative consequences. If we react through being scared, we may get really tight and play timid. We may choke in challenging situations and we may even choose to stop playing because we are reacting to our fear of performance. If we react through being angry, we may slam our stick or yell at a referee or get into a fight with an opponent or even a team member. Our anger will then become a distraction for ourselves, our team and a hindrance to our performance. If we react through being sad, we may just give up, stop playing hard and probably be useless out on the field. We may just stop playing hard as a self-defense mechanism, in that it's hard to get too disappointed when we know we have not "given it our all". Again, reacting to sadness may even cause us to just give up and quit whatever sport we are playing altogether, because who wants to do something that makes us sad?  So, these are all just a few different examples of situations that can happen when we react in some way to our emotions in sports. There are obviously an infinite number of scenarios that can happen when we let our emotions get the best of us.

Our other option is to respond to our emotions. How do we do that? It's pretty simple actually, but very challenging to do sometimes!

1. WE BREATHE. That's all. We take deep breaths in and out through our nose all the way down into our belly and chest and we feel what is going on for us.

2. WE FEEL. Notice any feelings in your stomach or chest. Don't try to change anything or hope it goes away. Just feel it. Like I said, it's easier said than done!

So, when I would get scared or nervous before a game, all I would do is take nice, long breaths in and out through my nose. I would notice, "Wow! I am getting nervous again for this game. I'll just feel nervous." Once I did this, I would still feel nervous, but I would realize that it was just energy to help fuel me for my game and help me get focused and grounded. So, instead of that energy making me choke and get tight, it reminded me to breathe and be present so I could play my best!

When I would get angry in games after I let a bad goal in or a ref made a bad call or an attack man slashed me across my elbow, I would do the same thing…I would breathe and feel.
I would take a few deep breaths in and out through my nose and I would feel my anger. Then, I would recognize that feeling was here to help me assert myself and play even stronger. I remember that once I learned to channel my anger, then it helped me to play even better! Man, when I got angry, that is usually when I felt like I could save any shot and do anything out on the field.

Finally, when I would get sad, which was usually after a loss, I would allow myself to breathe into that emotion and feel that. And sometimes, after the real tough losses (like in some playoff or championship games), I would even cry. But, I would feel that emotion and realize that I was just feeling sad, that I had another great day ahead of me and that I would continue to try and improve and play better next time. That kept the sadness from becoming damaging to my athletic career.

So, don't let anyone ever tell you that there is no room for being scared, or being angry, or being sad in sports or in life. And certainly don't let anyone tell you that feeling is not part of being a man. It's a part of life for EVERYONE and sports are just an example of what life can be like. The strongest people are those who are willing to face those emotions and feel them, instead of run from them. Once you learn how to respond to your emotions, you will realize that they are here to help you be your best and reach your goals. The best part is, you can take this from sports and use it in your everyday existence to help you live life to the fullest!