5 Tips for Managing Frustration in Sport

Author: Hunter Visser, Co-founder of HeadStartPro Performance Training

Almost every athlete has had a game or competition where frustration got the better of them. But if you ask, they will likely tell you they’ve also had a game or competition where frustration helped them achieve one of their best results. For most athletes, the ability to use frustration to their advantage rather than letting it derail their mental game is a matter of luck and circumstance (sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t). In this article, you will learn five tips—or five steps—to help effectively manage frustration and use it to your advantage.

Managing Frustration

1. Self-trigger

The first and most crucial step is to self-trigger on frustration, or in other words, to recognize that you are becoming frustrated. The problem is, most of the time when we get frustrated, all we can focus on is who or what is making us angry. With enough frustration, our brain will go into reactionary fight or flight mode, releasing stress hormones, overwriting our good habits, and causing us to act irrationally. 

The best way to prevent yourself from making a poor decision or reaction due to frustration is to recognize that your frustration is building (self-trigger) and ask yourself an important question: Is it worth it? 

2.    Is it worth it?

In other words, is this worth getting worked up about? Most of the time, it isn’t. If it isn’t worth it, try to focus on something other than what is frustrating you. Taking a penalty because you reacted out of frustration is only going to give the other team a better opportunity to win. Saying something rude to another player, official, coach, or parent isn’t going to help you win either. And having the grown-up version of a temper tantrum or reacting irrationally because of repeated failure can be downright embarrassing. Once you’ve considered whether or not it’s worth it, you need to calm the mind and use the surge of adrenaline to your advantage. Take a deep breath, and don’t be this guy!

Don’t be this guy.

3. Breathe

Breathing is crucial for calming your mind, slowing down your heart rate, and taking control of your mental state. If you have the time, try taking four deep breaths to a count of four seconds in and four seconds out. If you are mid-shift or don’t have time to take four slow breaths, use the frustration as the trigger or reminder to focus on your breathing. Taking just one or two deep breaths can send a positive flow of energy through your body, which will help you conquer the next step: slow it down and simplify.

4.    Slow it down and simplify

Try to focus on one thing at a time. Revisit your plan for the training session, game or competition, and then focus on your next move. Getting your mind to the point of singular focus will help you trigger the flow state or the zone. Focus on the task at hand rather than the other player, official, spectator, or external condition that is causing your frustration. By directing your focus to just one task, you will make it much easier to get to step 5: making frustration work for you.

5.    Make your frustration work for you

Now that you have a singular focus, and have your mind back on task, use the surge of adrenaline to your advantage. Frustration can give you the speed and strength you need to push just a little further or a little harder than you thought you could. It can help you to get into the peak performance state and push past any physical barriers holding you back. But to do this, you need to self-trigger on your frustration first, then control your mind. Don’t let frustration get the best of you; use it to your advantage!

These five tips will help you to prevent performance errors and injuries caused by frustration. In the process, they’ll help you to achieve better results and perform at a higher level. To learn more about how to manage frustration, check out our online courses, or sign up for an in-person workshop.

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