“Trevor Bauer threw a baseball over the centerfield fence at Kauffman Stadium after surrendering the Indians’ lead to the Royals on Sunday,” read the headline on 7/29/19 in ESPN News. The apology and explanation that came later from Bauer referenced frustration with himself at his “inability to stop the situation and keep my team in the game.”
How emotions run high in sports
While Bauer’s behavior surprised his teammates, it’s hardly the first time an athlete, professional or otherwise, acted out in response to feeling like things were just not going right. Referees get pushed, balls thrown, curse words fly, opponents get slapped or snubbed during handshakes. Sometimes even fans get punched. Obviously no one goes into a game planning to let their emotions get the best of them. Nonetheless, the unsportsmanlike behavior is a sign of a larger, overarching issue: trying to control the outcome, lack of focus, loss of flow, or what is otherwise known as falling out of the “Zone.”
People often think that those who exhibit outbursts have let their emotions get out of control, as though there were a way to control emotions. Psychologically speaking this is inaccurate. We feel what we feel. Just like we think what we think. There is little that can be done about either of those circumstances. Our brains, like our lungs and hearts, function automatically and cannot be pre-programmed to think or feel a certain way in response to situations.
You can’t control emotion. But you can manage your behavior
This lack of control over our thoughts and feelings, however, does not mean we have no control over our behavior. With behavior we have choice. A clear example of this kind of choice-making is demonstrated by the following: A father yells at his 10 year-old son, who subsequently takes it out on his 6 year-old sister, who subsequently kicks the dog. Notice in this familiar scenario how no one yelled at or kicked the father, who presumably is the tallest and strongest in the story. While no one in this situation thought it through deeply and made a choice to take out his/her frustration on the next smaller or weaker one in line, each one chose not to go after the bigger and stronger one, who in actuality was the perpetrator of their upset feelings.
Once we take ownership over our behavior, then we can put effort into taking control over the “controllables,” such as our nutrition, rest, conditioning and mental preparation.
Mental preparation involves honing our focus by engaging in relevant Zone techniques, which can be applied to sports and other performances. One of these skills involves checking the location of our distraction during matches or games. Is it internal or external, i.e. is it your thoughts and worries, your predictions and memories (which are all internal) or is it the crowd, the noise, the lights, the weather (which are all external)? Then we have to ask ourselves whether there is any value in letting those thoughts in. This is a trick question as the answer is “no.” It is far more useful to focus on the goal, the ball, your breath, your timing and rhythm.
And lastly, instead of trying to not think of things, just work on getting clear on what you do want to be thinking about. As the old example goes: Don’t think of a pink elephant…oh, too late!
For more Zone information, techniques and exercises, contact us. See You At the Top!