Coping with Anger in Sports Competition

By Dan O'Connell •  Updated: 05/25/23 •  11 min read

Anger is an intense emotion characterized by frustration, hostility, irritability, and anger. It is often triggered by a perceived injustice or a sense of unfairness and can be directed inward or outward in different forms of expression.

On the field, anger manifests in behaviors such as arguing with referees, verbalizing frustrations with teammates or opponents, making competitive threats against opposing players, and exhibiting hostile body language.

By understanding the underlying causes of anger and recognizing its manifestations in athletics, coaches, referees, and athletes can work to prevent adverse outcomes associated with uncontrolled anger on the field.

Techniques and Strategies for Managing Anger During Sporting Events

Sports are often a domain where strong emotions can be released, and tensions can run high, with the potential for robust and disruptive anger.

While it’s essential to recognize the role of these intense feelings in sporting events, it is also crucial for athletes to learn how to manage them to ensure that their behavior remains respectful, safe, and conducive to peak performance.

This overview will discuss various techniques and strategies for managing anger during sporting events. Retaining a calm composure while engaging in sports is essential for providing an enjoyable experience and upholding healthy competition.

Acknowledging strong emotions such as anger while they arise is one way of managing them positively; this process involves recognizing how one feels without judging or discounting their experience.

Awareness of the physical sensations accompanying intense emotions can help athletes identify when they need to take a break or use calming techniques such as mindful breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

Taking time out from the game before allowing emotions to escalate may enable players to gain perspective on their feelings and respond more appropriately. 

Communication is critical to managing anger in sports effectively; this could involve dialoguing with teammates, mentors, parents, or referees about potential issues.

For the Body

1. Calming Techniques

Calming techniques like deep breathing and positive self-talk are essential for managing stress and anxiety. Deep breathing helps to promote relaxation by activating the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.

When practiced regularly, it can significantly reduce feelings of distress and tension. Positive self-talk is another powerful technique that can help to decrease anxiety.

It involves using affirmations to counteract negative thought patterns and build a more resilient mindset. These strategies can be used in any situation, from daily tasks to more challenging scenarios, effectively managing difficult emotions without relying on external stimuli or avoidance behaviors.

By combining calming techniques with mindful awareness and acceptance, individuals can learn to accept their emotions and feel empowered to take purposeful action.

Practice Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are proven to reduce stress and improve mental health. These exercises involve taking deep, slow breaths while focusing on your body and its movement with the breath.

To practice this technique, begin by finding a comfortable position, such as sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose, focusing on filling your chest with air.

Hold your breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through pursed lips until the air is gone from your chest. Repeat this sequence for several minutes without distractions or thoughts about anything else.

As you become more comfortable with the process, you can keep track of how many breaths you take in each session or focus on something that will help you relax, such as visualizing a calming place.

With regular practice, deep breathing exercises can become an effective and easy way to reduce stress in daily life.

The Power of Positive Self-Talk in Controlling Emotions

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool for managing emotional states. Utilizing kind and encouraging words to ourselves can help foster feelings of self-compassion, reduce stress, and prevent unhealthy behavior.

Recent studies suggest that positive affirmations and reframing our thoughts can lead to a more optimistic outlook while strengthening psychological regulation capabilities.

As people learn to be intentional with their inner dialogue, they may find they can better manage their emotions in challenging situations. By engaging in meaningful conversations with themselves, individuals have the potential to reduce psychological distress and develop healthier responses to complex problems.

Positive self-talk can allow us to mentally rehearse adaptive behaviors that can be used when faced with obstacles or moments of difficulty instead of being overwhelmed by them.

When we consciously focus on constructive internal dialogue, we become more aware of our needs and create opportunities for personal growth. This process is essential for developing resiliency – the ability to adaptively manage emotions even during difficult times. 

Emphasizing proactive language within our inner dialogue can improve our overall mental well-being by reducing negative bias and providing greater clarity in addressing emotionally taxing scenarios.

2. Redirecting Attention and Thoughts

Examining the benefits of distraction and reframing negative thoughts can be an empowering approach to improving mental health and well-being.

Humans are prone to rumination, worrying about situations, or obsessing over perceived imperfections.

Using distraction and reframing techniques, we can break away from these damaging thought cycles and gain valuable perspectives on challenging emotions and experiences.

Distraction involves engaging in activities that distract the mind from troubling thoughts or worries, such as listening to music or playing a game.

Reframing is a cognitive technique that requires recognizing negative thinking patterns, transforming them into more positive interpretations, and gaining insight into how they may be unhelpful in certain situations.

This approach makes it possible to identify more constructive concepts that can serve as a foundation for healthier behaviors and attitudes.

For example, if someone has been struggling with self-esteem issues due to feeling like their life lacks purpose or meaning, reframing can help them explore potential passions that could bring greater fulfillment.

Similarly, if worrying has taken hold of the individual’s life, engaging in distracting activities can provide relief by offering immediate gratification and an opportunity to recharge and reset mentally and, in any case, acknowledge the power.

Activities that Can Help Redirect Attention Away From Anger

Anger can be difficult to deal with, and it often requires conscious effort to redirect attention away from the source of irritation. 

One helpful tool is mindfulness meditation, which helps individuals recognize their physical and mental responses to anger and encourages them to pause before lashing out.

Other activities such as deep abdominal breathing, yoga, or a brisk walk can also help reduce stress, which often contributes to the feeling of anger.

Art therapy provides another outlet by allowing individuals to visually express emotions instead of bottling them up or directing them outward aggressively.

Writing can also be used to journal thoughts and feelings so they can be objectively examined rather than overwhelming an individual. Practicing gratitude and expressing how one feels in a non-confrontational way are additional ideas for helping redirect attention away from feelings of anger.

In general, engaging in positive activities that create a sense of inner calm is an effective strategy for shifting focus away from anger and toward more balanced emotional states.

3. Strategies for Addressing Underlying Issues With Anger

Anger is a complex emotion that can stem from various sources, including unresolved personal issues, changes in life circumstances, or perceived injustices.

While expressing anger is often seen as unfavorable, understanding the source of your emotions and working to address them can help mitigate anger in healthy ways.

To do this, it’s essential to identify your triggers and any underlying issues associated with them. Once identified, here are some effective strategies for addressing these underlying issues and better managing angry responses:

Setting Personal Goals to Prevent Outbursts of Anger

Setting personal goals is an effective way to manage and prevent outbursts of anger. By clearly defining what we want to achieve, we can create an actionable plan that encourages us to focus on the positive instead of indulging in negative behavior.

Effective goal-setting requires commitment and dedication – an unwavering determination to make sound decisions and practice healthy habits leading to our desired result.

This process should begin by deciding on comprehensive goals that are realistic, achievable, and relevant to our current circumstances.

From there, create specific objectives for each goal, such as short-term tasks or end milestones. Additionally, it is important to establish a timeline to measure progress accurately.

This will also allow us to adjust our plans or make shifts if certain elements are too challenging or no longer applicable.

Taking the time to properly assess our goals and develop a plan of action helps foster self-discipline over our emotions and provides guidance when tempted by impulsive reactions or troubled thoughts.

With discipline and persistence, establishing achievable personal goals can help eliminate angry outbursts while paving the way for success.

Tips for Having More Positive Athletic Experiences

Sports can be an immensely rewarding experience, offering the chance to stay in shape, build relationships, and work towards success.

Yet sometimes, athletes may face less-than-positive experiences due to poor team dynamics or inadequate coaching.

To help sports participants make the most of their athletic endeavors, here are a few tips for having positive athletic experiences: 

By making a conscious effort to focus on your development, remain open-minded when faced with unique predicaments, and challenge yourself from time to time while also reserving.

Suggestions for Talking to Coaches and Teammates About Anger Management

Talking to coaches and teammates about anger management can be a difficult subject but also an important one. Coaches and teammates are uniquely positioned to understand the difficulties of managing anger in sports.

Acknowledging this difficulty is the first step to initiating a productive dialogue. Coaches must create an open communication and understanding environment, providing a safe space for athletes to express their feelings.

When discussing anger management, focusing on individual needs and emphasizing self-reflection over blaming or shaming is crucial.

This can help athletes identify underlying emotions that may be causing their feelings of anger and build habits for managing them in healthy ways.

Additionally, coaches should empower athletes by giving them ownership over decisions related to their emotional well-being.

Finally, coaches should emphasize perspective-taking, which can help athletes better understand how their behavior impacts those around them.

By creating a positive dialogue around anger management, coaches and teammates can work together toward making positive changes for all involved. Navigating conversations about anger management between coaches and teammates can be tricky but is ultimately beneficial for everyone involved.


Playing sports is often perceived as a fun and exciting way to stay active, but it can also be a source of stress and anger. It’s important to proactively manage your emotions during sporting events so they don’t lead to destructive behavior or cause harm to yourself or others.

Here are some tips on dealing with anger while playing sports:

By taking these steps before allowing anger to become overwhelming, you can ensure that sporting activities remain enjoyable and positively impact your well-being.

Additionally, if an unfortunate situation arises where your emotions overwhelm you, don’t be afraid to turn to teammates or coaches for help regaining emotional control.

Managing anger while playing sports requires actively being aware of your emotional state and responding appropriately.

Dan O'Connell