Mind Over Sports

When you’re angry you give away your power

Posted on: February 2, 2008

handball_player_big_charcol_colored_v1Twenty years ago I learned a valuable lesson: anger and sports competition just don’t mix. I had entered a national handball tournament in Baltimore, Maryland, and had been practicing not suppressing my feelings. “Let it out,” I kept telling myself. But I soon found there’s a huge difference between letting it out and being angry.

It was the third round of the tournament and my opponent was an excellent player from New York City. I had won the first game and was leading in the second when my opponent purposely stepped on my foot just as I was about to hit the ball. The ball went into the floor and I turned to the referee who was perched above the court behind us. “That was a hinder,” I said, meaning the point should be played again. The referee had not had a good clear view of the shot and asked my opponent if he did, indeed, step on my foot. “No,” he replied, obviously lying. Further into the second game he did it multiple times and each time was followed by his denial. I was seething. Finally, I decide to let it all out and erupted in anger, yelling at him: “YOU’RE A %#&*@!! LIAR!!! I then began to keep it up, unleashing my anger and yelling and cursing him through the rest of the second game, which he won handily. Then, in the third and final game (which was an 11-point tie-breaker) he was leading 10 to 4. I called time out and realized what I was doing just wasn’t working. I walked over to my opponent, put out my hand, and apologized for my behavior. I told him (and I really did mean it) that I was sorry that I had attacked him verbally and promised not to do it again. “All right, all right,” he scowled, “Forget it. Let’s just finish the game.” He wouldn’t shake my hand even though I had held it out to him. But a funny thing happened from that moment on. My anger was gone. He served the ball and I returned it perfectly. It was now my turn to serve. And when I began serving, I suddenly realized I had scored seven straight points and…won the match. My opponent was furious and stomped off the court, still refusing to shake my hand. That’s when I leared a valuable lesson: when you get angry in sports competition (as in life itself) you give away your power. In the tournament, in my age group, I finished among the top 16 players in the country. But more importantly I learned a valuable lesson that has served me well these many years.

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