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Do you wish your emotions didn't get in the way of you playing your best? Do you want to remain calm and composed under pressure like the pros? Follow these tips to be able to master your emotions!

Your emotions can either help or hurt your performance. Athletes at the top of their game are able to manage their emotions in any situation. They can not only prevent them from doing harm (like with out-of-control frustration), they can actually use them to improve their performance.

The pros do not allow their emotions to control their play, they don’t make unnecessary mental errors when frustrated or hold back when they are nervous. They can stay calm and composed under pressure and play their best when it matters most.

10 Top Tips to become Emotionally Tough like the Pros:

1. Self-awareness: It is important to be aware of what situations cause you to become emotional e.g. sad, nervous, worried, or frustrated. Identify specific situations when playing for example instead of “making mistakes” it might be “missing easy shots,” “missing my best shot/skill,” “repeating the same mistakes” or “multiple mistakes in a short period.” You need to understand what causes your out of control emotions.

Doing this will allow you to know exactly what situations you need to develop strategies and plans for and danger areas you need to look out for when you are actually playing.

2. Use a thought diary: Record your thoughts, emotions and, behaviors down after practicing and after competing. Include key positive and negative situations. Look for patterns and identify which thoughts, emotions and behaviors are connected to when you play your best and when you play your worst. This will increase your self-awareness and your ability to manage your emotions.

3. Understand how thoughts cause emotions: Thoughts help create emotions. For example thinking “I shouldn't have made another mistake” or “I can’t believe I missed that shot” will cause you to be frustrated. These are frustrated thoughts.

Sometimes you may think you feel an emotion for no reason. For example you may be nervous and not know why, however often this is caused by worrying about what is going to happen. For example “I hope I play well” or “I really need to beat this girl” will cause you to be nervous because it creates doubt that you can play well or deal with the situation. Sometimes these thoughts can happen subconsciously without you realizing it. The pros understand their thoughts and that they can control them in order to create productive emotions.

4. Develop a routine: You need to create a refocusing routine to use every time your mind leaves the zone and you become too emotional to play well. This should be a series of mental and physical steps that you follow each time. Its purpose is for you to return to the zone and be in your wining mindset before each point, play or skill. You will be able to reset yourself and your mind.

You need to understand how your mind and body reacts during different emotions so you can create successful routines. They need to include strategies to return to a calm and composed mindset including strategies for your thoughts, body responses (e.g. tension, increased breathing/heart rate), behaviors/play and a way to release strong emotions.

5. Use breathing and relaxation techniques: If you can control your body responses to emotions such as muscle tension, increased heart rate and breathing, your mind racing and, feeling extra hot or cold, this will help to manage your emotions. You can use techniques such as deep breathing, centering and muscle relaxation. With practice you will be able to use them successfully to manage your emotions within a few seconds or a few breaths.

6. Visualization: This is a powerful technique that can help to remove or create emotions. There are many different ways to use visualization and it is a skill like anything else that can be learned and improved with practice.

For example to calm down you can visualize the color blue or peaceful scenes such as a beach or your own version of this. Colors such as red and yellow may improve your mood or increase your energy. You can also manage frustration and increase confidence by visualizing yourself correcting mistakes you make or overcoming a tough situation.

7. Understand helpful and unhelpful thought types: You need to understand the types of thoughts that can hurt and help you to manage your emotions and your performance. Thoughts that can hurt your performance include dwelling on mistakes, worrying about the future, focusing on uncontrollables, thinking about the outcome or winning, worrying about being perfect and thinking about your weaknesses when competing.

It is important to understand these thinking types and how they can negatively affect your performance. You can then identify when playing if you are creating unhelpful emotions with your thoughts and that you need to make a change. You can then choose to use more helpful thoughts that will create more productive emotions. Positive and helpful thinking types that can help performance include: Focusing on the present and how to play well, mood words, positive affirmations, technical or strategy focus points and, cue words.

8. Thought control: Understand and use techniques to control your mind and your emotions. If you are able to identify when you are thinking incorrectly you can then use techniques to change this. You are in control of your mind and can choose what to think and what not to think. To do this you can use techniques such as thought stopping, changing the channels and reframing.

9. Develop emotional game plans: Use your knowledge gained from tip 1 and make plans for the situations you find difficult, that cause out-of-control emotions. Included in these should be thoughts to use, relaxation techniques, behaviors and a strategy of how to play.

10. Use positive body language: I'm sure you have heard of “fake it until you make it,” well it actually works and using the correct body language can actually change your emotions. For example if you are frustrated and you use positive body language instead of the usual negative responses, your mind will follow your body and you will start to think more positively.

You will feel more confident and have more energy. Examples of this include: holding your head up high, making eye contact, sticking your chest up and keeping your back straight, walking with purpose and using energetic movements such as bouncing/jumping up and down.


Change your perspective on emotions: It is important to think about managing your emotions rather than controlling them. You are more likely to stay in a winning mindset if you embrace your emotions rather than seeing them as a problem. Instead of always trying to control the “negative” emotions you can use them to help you play better. For example if you are frustrated you can use this extra energy to be more determined to correct your mistakes and play with more effort. If you are nervous you can learn to channel that nervous energy into focusing on playing aggressive and committing to your game plan.

If you would like more customized tips and an individualized mental training plan you can Contact Me here. You can also find out more about my services and why you should work with me on my Services Page here.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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