It has been said that those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first
make angry. What is anger, how does it impact tennis performance,
and what can be done to keep it in check and actually turn it to your
advantage during competition.
What is Anger?
Anger is usually viewed as an emotional response to a stressful
situation. Expressed anger is easy to recognize, but angry thoughts
and feelings may also exist internally, well concealed from others.
Here are some typical definitions of anger:
Anger intensity varies widely. Whereas irritation and annoyance
represent forms of mild anger, strongly emotional and energetic anger
is sometimes called rage. Fury is rage so great that it resembles
- A strong feeling of displeasure and aggressive hostility aroused
by real or suspected wrong.
- A response to the frustration of an unresolved problem.
- An emotional reaction created by combining high psychic energy
with high stress.
- A sudden violent displeasure accompanied by an impulse to
It is important to distinguish between the normal anger which often
occurs during competition, and much more serious forms of anger which
may extend beyond sport and lead to serious physical and emotional
harm. Before anger reaches these levels, it is strongly advised to
Anger in Tennis
Tennis was traditionally associated with the gracious manners and
refined etiquette of the elite. As such, expressions of anger were
vigorously repressed in favor of style and sportsmanship. This
gentler and kinder time has all but vanished, as tennis is now
embraced by irate masses worldwide, cultivated or not!
Expressions of anger are witnessed at all levels of the game in
screaming, temper tantrums, cursing, racket throwing, linesperson and
umpire abuse, and self-condemnation. Anger which is contained within
can be equally distasteful when the player is consumed by negative
thoughts and images.
Uncontrolled anger almost always impairs tennis performance. One
explanation is that arousal levels rise dangerously high. Recall
that tennis requires optimal levels of relatively low arousal
compared with most other sports (see September 1995 article).
Controlled anger sometimes proves useful on the tennis courts. John
McEnroe may be best remembered for his violent and maniacal temper
tantrums. He was actually a brilliant strategist who used anger to
distract opponents, while maintaining internal control. Perhaps he
wasn't angry at all, but only made it appear so to gain an advantage!
I am not recommending that anger be used in this manner, but stay
extra focused when your opponent gets mad!
Getting mad at yourself after unforced errors might sometimes be
useful, because it shows that you value consistency. But remember to
stay in control and move mentally to the next point or you may find
yourself distracted and unable to perform your best.
Here are some further ways to control anger:
Anger is quite a force, but like most energy it can be harnessed for
your benefit or allowed to roam wildly and destroy you. Understand
and conquer this madness! Until next month ...
- Use your anger to focus intensely on what you will do next rather
than on the mistake you just made.
- Negative self-talk is a killer. Learn to recognize when it
happens and get angry that you are thinking negatively. Use this
anger to transform negative thoughts into positive ones.
- When anger is overwhelming you, do anything to break the pattern.
Tie your shoelaces, count to 10, breathe deeply and slowly, write a
letter to your grandmother, and get in the mindset of playing each
point one at a time.
- Use imagery to practice dealing with situations that have caused
anger in the past. Imagine yourself handling these situations