Emotions in sport – the highs and lows are both important!

German WC 2014 victory

It may sound completely bonkers but it has often been said that it is “valuable” for a team to lose the occasional match. What? Surely a team should try and win each and every match played! Any sensible and sensitive parent never enjoys it when their child’s team loses! What about having to deal with a disappointed and dejected child? While I would never suggest that a team ever try deliberately to ”throw” a game, there are valuable lessons to be learned from losing through reflecting on a child’s emotional response.

Firstly, teams should always try and win a match fairly through executing good technique and staying focused on individual and / or team goals. Winning or a positive practice will leave young sportsmen and women feeling confident about their ability, skill and decision-making. On the other hand, losing a match or failing to meet intended performance goals usually results in frustration, finger-pointing and blame or acting out in frustration.

Such contrasting emotional responses to playing sport provide crucial information and opportunity to continued enjoyment and improvement. The hardest part, as is so often the case, is to re-orientate a sad and disappointed child’s perspective towards loss or failure as an opportunity. Even having to swallow pride as a proud parent can be difficult to put aside or overcome when having to experience the bitter taste of seeing your child lose or perform poorly.

Following a loss or poor performance, aggression doesn’t bring an athlete closer to the aim of improving their technique or incentive to train. Feeling ashamed about a performance or actions following an aggressive outburst often results in a low effort in either training or the next pressured situation (Sagar et al., 2010).

Instead, experiencing a loss can help a team to become aware of their weaknesses and adapt their response to being placed under pressure. Teams or athletes that are “problem-focused” (Lazarus, 1999) can use the negative experience and information from a losing performance to fix mistakes that contributed to the loss. One of the central features of ‘Mental Toughness’ is the ability to “bounce back” after a defeat (Crust, 2007).

Consider these questions after your child loses a match to evaluate a disappointing performance and opportunities for improving in the future:

1) Planning: “How can I improve or adapt?” “How does losing affect my approach to training this week?” “Are there new resources I can use to develop my skills?”

2) Gathering information: “What mistakes did I make?” “What techniques or strategies were either effective or ineffective?”

3) Developing new skills to improve: “Do I need to practice my current skills more?” “What new techniques can I learn to ensure a good quality performance? “Good quality training will improve my performance under pressure.”

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