Controlling Emotional Outbursts in Sports: The Techniques Athletes Need to Know

By Dan O'Connell •  Updated: 05/25/23 •  9 min read

Controlling Emotional Outbursts in Sports: The Techniques Athletes Need to Know

Emotional outbursts in sports can be defined as any sudden and dramatic display of emotion or energy, such as an outburst of anger or joy following a specific event. This behavior is widespread among highly competitive athletes and emotionally invested in their sport. 

While emotional outbursts are natural and often unavoidable, they can also have unintended consequences, such as hurting the performance of individual athletes or teams, causing disruption within the team dynamic, or affecting decisions by coaches or referees. 

As such, it is essential to practice strategies to manage these outbursts, enabling athletes to express themselves without harming their performance or teammates.  

 Strategies for managing emotional outbursts in sports include developing a greater understanding of one’s emotions and recognizing when an eruption is imminent. 

Athletes should also practice healthy coping behavior such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or engaging in progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Talking it out with a coach or teammate is also beneficial. 

Additionally, creating mental triggers may help redirect the focus away from adverse reactions and toward successful performance goals. 

Identifying and Managing Triggers

Trigger management is an integral part of living with anxiety. This behavior provides an opportunity to develop strategies for responding to situations and events that may cause worry or stress. 

Trigger identification requires individuals to become aware of specific circumstances that initiate or prompt their anxious reactions. 

Once these triggers are identified, individuals can begin to practice self-monitoring and focus on developing individualized coping mechanisms for addressing their anxiety in each situation.

 In short, by learning to identify and manage personal triggers, people can gain control over their reactions and better understand how to cope with their anxiety effectively.

 In addition, it is essential to seek professional help to understand the complexities of one’s emotions and learn techniques such as relaxation and mindfulness practices that can be used in times of distress. 

Ultimately, identifying and managing triggers is a critical step in allowing individuals to gain mastery over their anxious thoughts and feelings, helping them live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Setting Clear Goals Visualization Techniques

Setting clear goals and utilizing visualization techniques are powerful tools for success. By setting clear, specific goals, you create a road map that outlines what you want to achieve and how you plan to reach it. 

Visualization techniques can bring those goals into focus and make them more concrete. For example, imagining the outcome you desire and visualizing yourself achieving that outcome can motivate you to put in the effort required to realize your goal. 

Additionally, visualizing yourself performing the activities necessary for success can provide insight into any potential obstacles or challenges that might stand in your way. 

Ultimately, setting clear goals and using visualization techniques creates a focused approach toward reaching your desired objectives. The resulting clarity of purpose can profoundly affect outcomes, improving the chances of the successful attainment of ambitions.

Reflection and Recovery

The phrase “Releasing stress, regaining focus” expresses the idea that there is a connection between reducing stress and reclaiming one’s concentration or mental clarity. 

This concept implies that when we feel overwhelmed, anxious, or frustrated, our ability to think clearly and remain focused on our goals can be impeded, leading to ineffectiveness and helplessness. 

By intentionally addressing the sources of our stress, however, we can regain the previously lost focus.

 This could involve meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, journaling, talking with a friend or mentor about our worries and concerns, or taking a break for self-care. 

These practices help us to shift out of ‘fight or flight’ mode – overactive worry and fear – thereby restoring our capacity to concentrate on the task at hand while being mindful of the present moment. 

As a result, we invite more peace into our lives and feel empowered to manage stressful situations and achieve personal success. 

Practicing Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness is an essential skill that can be used to help manage stress and promote optimal well-being. Mindfulness involves using intentional awareness to observe one’s thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way, allowing individuals to become more aware of the present moment and their reactions to it. 

Practicing mindful techniques regularly can be incredibly beneficial by helping people to become more resilient, focused, and at peace with themselves. 

Research suggests regular mindfulness practice can reduce acute and chronic stress levels by rewiring the brain for greater emotional regulation and increased self-awareness. 

In addition, mindfulness cultivates an appreciation of life’s experiences as they arise – providing individuals with a deeper understanding of each moment instead of evaluating them in terms of past or future experiences. 

Engaging in mindfulness activities such as meditation or yoga can have powerful effects on mood and relaxation, enabling individuals to approach situations with clarity, understanding, and acceptance. 

Ultimately, practicing mindfulness techniques provides a gateway for reducing stress and enhances mental health and emotional well-being over time.


The concept of ‘identifying negative thoughts and challenging them’ refers to recognizing one’s limiting thoughts and beliefs that can hinder progress and actively questioning and re-evaluating those ideas to build more positive thought patterns. 

This practice involves becoming mindful of one’s inner dialogue, paying attention to any underlying thought patterns that may be distortions of reality or otherwise negative tones. 

Once these are identified, discussing them and dissecting their validity is essential. 

Through analytical reasoning, constructive criticism from others, and self-reflection, it becomes possible to challenge these limiting beliefs and explore alternative perspectives or courses of action that have the potential to lead to improved outcomes. 

With effort and dedication, this practice can foster growth by allowing individuals to become more aware of their mental barriers while gaining the skills necessary to overcome them. 

Ultimately, identifying and challenging negative thoughts provides a powerful tool for unlocking personal potential on both an intellectual and emotional level.

Creating positive self-talk scripts can be an effective tool to help cultivate a positive attitude and nurture resilience. Self-talk is the narrative voice in your head that provides a running commentary on your life — often guiding and critiquing your actions. 

To counter negative thoughts or biases, people may create short statements or mantras to serve as verbal reminders of their desired mindset or behavior. 

These scripts, when repeated regularly, can help rewire thinking patterns over time, ultimately leading to more optimistic and productive mindsets.

When creating a self-talk script for yourself, it’s essential to ensure it is realistic and actionable. Start by crafting a positive statement that resonates with you and accurately reflects the attitude you wish to embody. 

For example: “I am capable of overcoming any challenge I face” or “I have the resilience to stay focused on my goals even when faced with adversity.” 

Please make sure these statements are easily memorable so that you can call upon them quickly; writing them down on an index card or piece of paper is one way to ensure easy access when needed. 

Additionally, don’t be afraid to modify these phrases over time if the language doesn’t feel quite right for

Having a Support System

Connecting with teammates before and after games is an essential aspect of playing sports that should be noticed. Team unity and a positive team environment can go a long way in helping your team to win games. 

By engaging regularly with your fellow players, you create bonds of trust and respect that will improve your performance on the field or court. 

Before the game, take the time to talk with your teammates about their goals and expectations for the upcoming competition. This will help you better understand each other and build a sense of camaraderie that can be mobilized during the game. 

After the game, debriefing with your team and reflecting upon the experience together to learn from successes and failures is equally important. 

Having meaningful conversations with your teammates allows for improved communication, increased motivation, and increased confidence in each other’s abilities, leading to more success.

Finding a mentor or coach to talk to after tough losses is also essential for any serious athlete who wants to excel in their sport.

Maintaining Balance With Nutrition and Exercise

A healthy lifestyle requires a balance of both good nutrition and physical activity. 

Eating healthy foods provides our bodies with the sustenance necessary for sustained energy, allowing us to tackle daily tasks with renewed vigor. Additionally, scheduling regular physical activity helps to maintain mental and physical strength. 

Exercise increases endorphin production, alleviating stress and improving mood while promoting cardiovascular health and maintaining muscle tone. By consciously incorporating these two elements, we can lead happier and more fulfilling lives.


Sports can be an emotional experience for both players and spectators. Managing emotions effectively is essential for success on the field and off. 

Various strategies can be used to regulate emotions in sports, such as developing self-awareness, recognizing triggers, setting goals, practicing mindfulness and visualization, utilizing positive affirmations, and engaging in deep breathing exercises.  

A comprehensive approach to managing emotional outbursts in sports requires understanding why they occur and how athletes can develop their ability to regulate their emotions. Self-awareness is crucial in understanding the underlying causes of outbreaks, such as fear or frustration. 

Once identified, athletes should remember the triggers that elicit these reactions to manage them proactively. Setting short-term goals can also help athletes focus on the task rather than allowing emotions to take over.   

Mindfulness and visualization techniques allow athletes to focus calmly on the present moment rather than ruminating over past events or worrying about future outcomes. 

Positive affirmations help boost confidence by encouraging athletes to think positively about themselves and their abilities, while deep breathing exercises help calm down quickly when feelings become overwhelming.

Dan O'Connell