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Regulating Anger On and Off the Field

When it comes to youth sports, we’ve all seen the shocking videos of parents letting their emotions fuel violent outbursts against other parents, coaches, and even young officials. But what if that angry outburst comes from one of the athletes on the field? How would you as a coach or parent help your athlete manage that outrage?

Dr. Kevin Chapman, TrueSport Expert, licensed clinical psychologist, and founder of the Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, explains that anger is “a normal basic core emotion.” He adds, “Angry is the result of a perceived social slight. Someone has knowingly, intentionally, or unnecessarily acted in a hurtful way toward us.”

Dr. Chapman also emphasizes that anger is an important emotion that prompts people of all ages to defend themselves and their loved ones. For example, if you get carded unfairly in a game, anger is a healthy response as long as the actions tied to that anger are focused on appropriate resolutions, such as telling the coach or asking the referee to explain their decision.

In order to avoid aggressive outbursts as a result of anger, Dr. Chapman recommends sharing and practicing a three-point check system with your athlete to help them reframe their internal dialogue in frustrating situations and respond in an effective way.

1. Thoughts

According to Dr. Chapman, “The most pivotal facet of any emotion is how we interpret the situation. An event occurs, we think about the event a certain way – usually based on previous experience with similar events, and this leads to the emotional experience.”

For instance, if a young athlete just found out they won’t be starting the game, they may feel angry at the coach for leaving them off the starting lineup. As the emotion builds, the thoughts follow suit:

“This is unfair. I work so hard. I don’t understand why he picked them over me.

This sport is pointless. I don’t deserve to sit on the bench. Why do I even try?”

At this point, Dr. Chapman recommends that the athlete “take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask, ‘What am I thinking right now?’” Acknowledging the thought process triggered by anger will help the athlete evaluate those thoughts more objectively and consider how they would describe the situation after the emotion passes.

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