Ask Dr. Conte: Drop the Weight Vest – Shedding the Anger of Past Mistakes

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I play basketball at a Division I university. I know I need to perform at a high level and not allow anger to get the best of me, but I can’t seem to help the fact that if I mess up, I get so angry with myself, and then my coach says that anger just makes me play worse. Do you have any suggestions of what I can do?

 

Probably the greatest key to sports psychology lies in athletes learning how to live in the present moment. The past is gone, and the future will never get here, so all we ever have is the present moment. When you play sports, you are playing in the present moment. That being said, I’d like to point out that every moment that you are focused on what you did wrong (i.e., the past), you are not focusing on the present moment.

Let’s look at it this way. Would you willingly put on a 100 lbs weight vest to run up and down the court in? I’m going to assume you are shaking your head “no” right now… Okay, so if you wouldn’t willingly put on a weight vest to slow yourself down, then what sense does it make to put on a mental weight vest to slow you down? It doesn’t; and I would love for you to see that the negative, angry thoughts you are having about previous plays are literally weighing you down and making you a less effective basketball player.

Picture the negative thoughts and anger as a weight vest that you are choosing to put on when you have those types of thoughts. Now that you understand the negativity and anger is weighing you down, the question is: What can you do about it?

Here’s my solution: I would invite you to picture saying a key word like “Focus” to bring you back to the present moment. Next, I’d invite you to visualize that as you say the word, “Focus,” you take off that heavy mental weight vest and set it off to the side.

“Focus.”

Present moment. This play. Right now.

Allow the word focus to become associated with the present moment. Practice saying “focus” over and over again, and each time you do, bring yourself into the present moment.

As an added awareness, I think it might be helpful for you to realize that the crowd is watching you, and believe it or not, your actions are influencing what they are thinking about. The more negative or angry reactions you have, the more likely the crowd is going to focus on the same negativity that’s in your mind. The more you can focus on the present, however, the more you will influence their thoughts to be brought into the present moment as well. Let me give you an example: 

Let’s say that you shoot an air ball. After you shoot the air ball, you get very angry with yourself, and you unconsciously put on your mental weight vest. As the mental weight vest weighs on you, your body language starts to show signs of being upset about missing the basket completely (i.e., your shoulders are bent over, your gait is slower, your head is down, etc.). The more your thoughts spin toward negativity, the more you continue to have poor body language. It is now evident to the crowd that you are still thinking of the air ball, and guess what? Now they are still thinking of the air ball, too, as well as the direct effect it’s having on you. 

But, if you were able to have “no memory” of the missed shot, and continually focus on the present moment, hustling, and working hard, then no doubt the crowd will notice how hard you are playing and how much you are hustling. As the crowd watches you hustle and work hard, guess what? They are now more likely to be thinking, “Wow, look how hard he’s playing,” and then they are much less likely to be thinking about the air ball.

You thoughts are more powerful than you realize. The more you can control your thoughts, the more you can harness their power. But I will tell you what I tell every athlete: Strengthening your mental game is not only equally important as strengthening your physical game, it takes an equal amount of work as well.

Good luck. And by all means: Stop trying to run up and down the court in that heavy mental weight vest!