"Accept your emotions, know them, express them and don't let them control you."
We have always heard the benefits of regular physical activity for our psychological well-being and physical health, specifically doing sports regularly increases our self-esteem, motivation, emotional intelligence, It favors circulation, coordination, muscle development and a long etcetera. But what we are not so used to hearing is the importance of having good mental health and its impact on our sports practice.
The pedagogical role of sport in emotional management and intelligence has been highlighted, but do we know the role of emotions in our sports performance and well-being?
To answer this question correctly, it is appropriate to start by describing the term Emotional Intelligence (EI). It is currently a term whose fame is growing exponentially, and the importance of good emotional intelligence in many different areas is becoming current, our social relationships, our work performance, our self-esteem and self-concept...
But it is not as current and modern a term as we may think, in fact emotional intelligence is 31 years old. It was in 1990, led by Peter Salovey and John D.Mayer who first introduced it in the literature defining it as “the ability to regulate one's own feelings and emotions and those of others, discriminate between them and use this information to guide one's thought and action ”. Therefore, we can define it as the ability to perceive, access, understand and generate emotions, both our own and those of others, in a way that allows us to understand the situation in which we find ourselves and be able to make the best decision.
As we grow, we acquire the four general skills that emotional intelligence presents. Below is a brief diagram ordered chronologically with the four pillars that make it up:
- Emotional perception and expression.
- Emotional facilitation of thought.
- Emotional understanding.
- Emotional regulation.
Once the concept of emotional intelligence is better understood, why is it so important in our sports performance and well-being?
Defining sports performance as the set of physical capacities (strength, coordination, balance, resistance...), tactics (precise sport strategies) , technical (specific sports movements) and psychological (concentration, confidence, stress management, self-awareness...) of the athlete himself, added to a series of external factors (the rival, the time, the material...) and the loads, intensities and periodization of the training sessions.
In other words, sports performance is the relationship between the tools and means used to achieve an objective and the result obtained. In turn, sports well-being is a physiological and mental state of happiness, moods and positive thoughts about oneself in sport and sport as such.
Emotional intelligence directly influences the well-being of people who practice some type of sport. The latter is very important because many very different emotions appear during the performance of a sport or physical activity.
Sport exposes us to many very different situations that generate emotions and thoughts in us that can either stop our practice or enhance it. For example, a climber who faces a complicated route, it is normal for emotions such as fear to surface, but if he lets himself be carried away by that fear, he is likely to make bad and hasty decisions and not finish that route, which can also generate a series of pessimistic thoughts about himself, affecting his psychological well-being. If this same climber, in this same situation, understands and accepts his emotion of fear and manages it correctly, it will have an empowering and protective effect on him. Getting them up the track in a cautious way and making good decisions along the way, which is likely to contribute to completing the track, which also affects their perception of success, motivation and self-esteem, contributing to their psychological well-being.
Emotions therefore play a fundamental role in the acquisition of our objectives and our perception of ourselves. This emotional management is important both in competitive sports and in leisure sports and both in children and adults.
In competition we face emotions such as anger, frustration, intense excitement, laziness, sadness or joy among others. If we reinforce emotions, making them exceed the threshold of adaptability, increasing the expectations of results, for example, the result will be that we stop enjoying our passion, our sport.
With adaptability we refer to the ability of the emotion to be positive or negative, starting from the premise that all of them are necessary. We tend to think of the negative effect of certain emotions, the reality is that they are all equally important, they allow us to have an emotional balance and make the best decisions. Fear makes us be cautious and weigh a decision, anger makes us critical and rational people, with the ability to make our own decisions and fight for them. What must be clear is the intensity and duration of said emotions, if anger does not allow you to listen to the other person's version and makes you obstinate in a position, then this emotion becomes maladaptive exerting a negative effect.
For example, it is normal to feel sad when losing an important competition or match, what we have to do in this situation for the emotion to be adaptive and have positive results is to accept that I can feel sad and that it serves as motivation for me to analyze the mistakes made and learn from them.
If, on the contrary, I don't manage that sadness and let it “consume” me, it becomes maladaptive and favors the appearance of negative thoughts that affect our performance and, as a consequence, also our well-being. For example, if in training my thoughts are more focused on the mistakes I made, on the fact that I lost the game and on anticipating a negative result in the next one, this will not allow me to focus on the specific exercise that I am doing at that moment. , most likely causing it to fail. All this will contribute to the increase of negative thoughts and emotions such as sadness, anger or anger.
Now let's think about the amount of emotions that can appear before a competition or match, we can feel happy, for the good training carried out throughout the week, we can feel frustrated by the need to overcome a rival or a personal best , we can feel relieved for having an inferior rival, we can feel distrust, fear, enthusiasm, optimism... All this can be included in the stress and nerves that we feel at those moments, expressed in a very different way by each person (thoughts, physical sensations, breathing, heart rate...).
In this case, emotional management is essential to modify our own behavior to our benefit, so that we are focused and prepared for the competition or match, training or sports practice. But How do we turn our emotions into our allies?
The first thing is to carry out a brief and simple exercise to begin to know ourselves and begin to recognize our emotions:
- Identify what emotion/s you are feeling.
- Identify how you are feeling that emotion/s (thoughts, physical sensations, heart rate, breathing...).
- Identify the intensity and duration of this emotion/s.
- Analyze what is causing the emotion/s in you.
- Accept that you may feel this way.
- Learn from her.
In short, answer what, how, why and since when.
If any of your answers gives you clues that it could be a maladaptive emotion, either because it has a higher intensity, because you have been feeling that way for a long time or because it is blocking you mentally and/or physically (disruptive thoughts, muscle tension, pain, tremors...) tries to control it. There are multiple ways to control and manage it, and since all human beings are different, not all of us use the same exercises. For this reason, we leave you several options and I suggest that you try them all, in order to find the tool that best suits you at all times.
- Mindfulness exercises.
- Breathing and relaxation exercises.
- Remember why you practice this sport. Your objective may be very different, but the base is to enjoy what you do.
- Remember your virtues and successes you have had. Talk to yourself positively.
Finally, and in order to learn to know ourselves and manage our emotions, I recommend you keep an Emotional diary in which you analyze the emotions and thoughts you have had throughout the day and more specifically in your practice sports, that have caused them, how they have been expressed, what consequences they have had and what other things you could have done.
In summary, physical activity and sport favor our emotional intelligence and, in turn, emotional intelligence favors our sports performance and well-being.