Managing Your Emotions In Sport

Managing Your Emotions in Sport

Rugby Psychology Tips: Managing Your Emotions in Sport

Sitting on the fence

We all have good games, and we all have bad games, it’s one of those truths of playing sport.  Some days, we turn up and make 10 passes, score tries and think we’re unplayable, and the feeling of being on top of the world is one that when we’ve felt it once we want to feel over and over again.

But what about those days when we can’t seem to pass to anyone, let alone someone in the same colours as yourself? The days that you feel that you cannot breathe and seemingly have no time on the ball. Naturally, a coach may try to spread the message of positivity and motivate you to think that positivity leads to success.  As a mental skills performance coach, I have to assure you that it does! But on the other side of the coin, positivity alone does not lead to success.  No athlete is happy when they fail to complete a task that they feel they should be. 

No rugby player is happy to see their scrum has led to an opposition attack, or their second consecutive conversion fails to make the posts. I’ll even challenge you to find a player who is overcome with joy that their loose pass has led to an opposition attack, resulting in a try. I’ve never found one yet! The point I’m getting at here is;

Constant positivity is unrealistic.

Of course, we want to tell ourselves to be positive after making a mistake, the direct opposite, and counter the negativity that we feel. The mistake we make, however, is believing the notion that positivity and negativity are the only emotional responses that we are allowed to feel when responding to that mistake we have made. The feeling that we believe that we need to be positive to play our best is simply wrong.   

While the mental skills performance coach or sports psychologist will say that positivity breeds success, they will also say that you do not have to always be positive to be successful.  It is simply not the case. We are familiar with the feelings of positivity when you make that tackle which stops a certain try: happiness, energised, that ‘buzz’ caused by the rush of adrenaline. But this only leaves the question of how we can feel these feelings after you knock on a simple pass from a teammate? 


The idea of feeling neutral at first sounds passive, and the thought of trying to feel nothing sounds confusing.  But consider this: neutrality is the middle, stuck right between positivity and negativity, and therefore, not too excited or energised, yet not too angry or frustrated. Rather, it’s the process of focusing on getting done what needs to be done.

If your mindset is neutral before making a pass, you are able to focus upon how to make your next move, whether that’s receiving the ball and passing to a teammate, or scanning to opposition and making a run with the ball. The neutrality helps maintain an emotional balance. 

When mistakes happen, this emotional balance is often unbalanced and the quick recovery of your mental game into a more favourable mindset is vital to ensure that your physical game isn’t negatively impacted. It is important to realise that this favourable mindset does not necessarily mean a positive one.  A neutral mindset steers your attention away from dwelling on mistakes and the negative thinking and feelings surrounding a mistake. This allows you to move on quicker to the next phase of play, whether that be chasing the ball you have just lost or ensuring you are ready for the next pass.

Building a Neutral Mindset

So how do we build the neutral mindset? Visualisation!

For example, create a ‘what if’ strategy. Think of a scenario, it can be imaginary or an actual event in a recent game that threw you off your pace. With this, create an ‘if-then’ statement. 

‘If I make a loose pass and it is intercepted by the other team, I will then focus on regaining possession/ help my team regain the ball…’

By doing this, you are familiarising yourself to the scenarios where you are expecting to be thrown off your game. This not only helps you identify these situations so you can become familiar and comfortable with how you will feel when it happens, but also allows you to recognise that you have been thrown off your game earlier than previously and enable you to regain composure and your mental game by switching to a coping mechanism a lot sooner.

Try to imagine various situations that would throw you and come up with different statements for these, as the more scenarios you cover mean the greater array of situations you will feel more comfortable in.

Mentally rehearse yourself recovering from a mistake, and the process you will go through mentally. Play out the mental recovery in your mind. How would you feel after the mistake? What does neutrality feel like to you in your game? What will it take to reach this in a match scenario?

This will be hard at first and you may not know what it will take until you are in that scenario within a match. Practice will improve your ability to do this and make it easier and quicker to do this in a match or in training, it is important to not be put off if this doesn’t come easily or naturally to you.

It is easy to forget that your reaction is your choice, despite it feeling automatic and uncontrollable. Once a more conducive mindset is established, making the right mental choices is easier and a steadfast way to improving your rugby game all-round. 

Why not try sitting on the fence? 

If you’d like to learn more about how to remain more neutral why not sign up to the “The Mental Edge”  where you’ll receive regular tips and advice.

To get in touch for one 2 one Sports Psychology Coaching with a Tom Short, Mental Skills Performance Coach and Sports Counsellor , based near Northallerton, North Yorkshire – Telephone, SKYPE or online calls are available.

Tom Short

Best Wishes 

Tom Short

Mental Skills Performance Coach and Sports Counsellor located near Northallerton, North Yorkshire.  Has a keen interest in team sports where he enjoys helping athletes get the most from their talents.  

E: [email protected]

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