Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Monday, 21 March 2016

Emotions in Sport

I often get emailed questions from all kinds of people. I've just responded to one on emotions in sport. I thought my answer was worth sharing, just to get people thinking.

The question was:

"Hi Gary,

What is your opinion on positive emotions on sports performance and do you have any information on it please?

Many thanks for your time!

Kind regards,

Of course, I only have so much time, so I needed to give a concise answer. Hopefully you sports people will find it of benefit:

"Hi! Phew! Where do we start? This is kind of a big area ;)

Positive emotions are essential for sports performance.

Negative emotions detract from sports performance.

In the first instance look to how emotions guide attention and focus - negative fixate and concentrate on the threat, the risk, the negative happening. Positive emotions allow for a wider outlook. (Look in the first instance to Cognitive Neuroscience texts - that'll put you in the best learning position.)

Next look to the physiology of emotions. Negative emotions tense us up and close us off. For sports performance this is like driving a car with the handbrake on. You'll make a lot of noise, not go that far, burn a lot of fuel, and bits will start falling off... Positive emotions relax you and open you up, allowing for unrestricted movement. Look to the breathing patterns of emotions too - negative emotions create sub-optimal breathing patterns. (Look in the first instance to sports physiology texts so you can start to understand how the mind and the body are linked and operate as one through our physiology.)

This is just the initial heads up - we can write books on this stuff ;)

Of course, technically we don't want emotion in sport at all. This is where most people don't understand what an emotion is. An 'emotion' is only such when it reaches our awareness. Outside of that it is just an innate survival response that we've attached to a stimulus. In sport we want to look to a state of 'flow' - easily, effortlessly, instantly and nonconsciously doing the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right effect. Mindless in other words. Therefore in sport if we are experiencing emotion of any kind we are already in a sub-optimal performance state... (Look in the first instance to the works of LeDoux, Demasio and Panksepp to give you a better understanding of the poorly understood 'emotion')

I hope this helps give you the initial heads up, and I welcome your comments.

Great question too!

Kind regards,Gary."

I was probably in a state of flow to achieve this shot, putting Azem Maksutaj down to take his World Thai Boxing Title. I definitely felt good emotion afterwards!