Whether you make a poor shot, get a bad bounce, have a bad point, game, or day, you’re entitled to be upset. It’s natural. But, however you experience these disappointments, in most sports you have a brief window in which to deal with the thoughts and feelings that arise. Are you going to let them negatively affect you or are you going to shift back into your zone? You may not realize it, but you have a choice. Your choice involves how practical you want to be and how much control you have over your emotions.


When something bad happens you can indulge your feelings (rats! poor me!) or you can get constructive. Do a quick mental check: What can you learn from the experience? What could you do differently or better next time? If there’s no time, or nothing to be learned (such as when you simply got a bad break), then your focus must shift to letting go of the negative feelings. Emotions won’t linger very long unless you make them stay by continuing to think about what caused them. If you turn your thoughts to other issues, your feelings will follow. This is what is meant by letting go. If you find yourself still steaming or brooding about the past disappointment, you’re still thinking about it. Stop! Change your mind. Move on.

Rather than trying to banish negative thoughts, it’s more effective to replace them with other, more positive and constructive thoughts. Instead of ruminating about a lost opportunity or embarrassing performance, force yourself to think about the next shot. Bring yourself out of the past into the present by preparing yourself for the task at hand: the next point, shot, moment. If you can shift your thoughts to the task at hand, you will forget about the past disappointment and your painful feelings will dissolve. If you catch them lingering on, it’s because you’re inadvertently still thinking about the disappointing occurrence in the past.  Again, that’s natural; your brain wants to solve the problem – but now’s not the time. Remind yourself you can work on it later but right now you must direct all that energy into getting back into your zone. Remember that to play well going forward you must attend fully and carefully and to be in a positive frame of mind.

White over Red

Emotions, whether positive or negative, bring energy into your body. It is possible to use this energy for the task at hand. If you are upset about your last shot, it’s possible to channel that energy as play continues. For some, anger helps them focus and stay energized. However, this won’t work well if your mindset is to “get back at” the ball or yourself, your opponent, the gods of Olympus – it’s too distracting. While it might feel good to indulge this feeling, it doesn’t work well for many athletes, who play poorly when they are angry, as they are distracted and they aren’t used to the tension in their body. Using angry energy this way won’t work because you won’t play naturally.

Using angry energy requires you to neutralize it first by separating it from the disappointing event. You must understand that the energy marshaled in by anger, or nerves for that matter, can be converted into the kind of energy associated with excitement. Energy itself is not good or bad; it’s simply there for you to use if you are able to do so. Instead of thinking about how angry you are, think about all of the energy in your body. Think about how nice it is to have all that energy at your disposal, like a natural boost, and how you can use it to focus on the next point. Then you get an extra boost from the dignity and pride inherent in establishing that you are in control and able to turn it around. From there, it’s a short step back into an optimal frame of mind most conducive to playing well.

What’s the alternative: give up; give in; indulge your anger? What are you trying to achieve? Let it out? Ok, fine, but be quick about it, and get back to business. And don’t be a bore about it. Or, maybe you’re embarrassed. Maybe you want to show everyone (including yourself) that you expect more of yourself. Maybe by ranting or brooding, you just might convince the (mostly imaginary) crowd that you are a better player than you appear to be. Surely you will play better after having humiliated yourself. Wishful thinking.

Ask yourself, when you see someone ranting about their mistakes or bad breaks, does your respect for them increase? If it’s your opponent, are you intimidated? Do you assume they are a better player, more deserving of good breaks? Probably not. More likely, you just see someone who is not in control of his emotions, who is making his problems worse. You may empathize with him, but you’re not likely to admire him. Plus, isn’t this the very definition of a poor sport? Who wants to play a game with that person? No thanks.

So, be a good sport and do yourself a favor: acknowledge the emotion, then change the channel to something that’s going to help you play well moving forward. Focus on the task at hand. Have fun.


  • Positive Pete

    I have a match tonight and am going to try some of these strategies, mainly that I get a shot of useful energy from everything that happens, good or bad. Anger or excitement, no matter; thanks for the energy!

  • Dan Laukitis

    Montaigne is smart about many things and says this about emotions: “I would rather produce my passions than brood over them at my expense; they grow languid when they have vent and expression. It is better that their point should operate outwardly than be turned against us.” .