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Playing Emotionally vs. Playing with Emotion

Guest blog post by Dean Wilson, Head Baseball Coach at Cascia Hall Prep in Oklahoma.

Instagram & Twitter @coachdeanwilson



As an athlete – a highly competitive person who has dedicated one’s life to defeating other people in physical competition – it can become very easy to get caught up in emotion. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and everything in between is constants in the psyche of those who pursue athletic glory on the field. While I will never – and I mean never – encourage someone to suppress their emotions in-game, there is a time and place for emotion and methods to effectively employ said emotion to serve the athletes’ endeavors exclusively. In other words, no more taking the good with the bad. How, you ask? The first lesson lies in understanding the difference between playing with emotion and playing emotionally, and yes, there is a difference.


When I say “playing with emotion,” what do you think of? A pitcher roaring off the mound after he blows a fastball by the opposing team’s best hitter? A hitter yelling and pointing into the dugout while floating around the bases after hitting a walk-off home run? Yes, and yes. What I’m sure you didn’t think of was a dude committing aggravated assault on the water cooler after his third punch-out of the night. But isn’t that emotion as well? It is, and the application of the emotion is what creates the divide between it acting as a benefit or a detriment.


Let me create a hypothetical scenario, and be honest with yourself about how often this has happened to you in your career:


You are hitting, and you have a terrible at-bat. You struck out or hit a squibber back to the pitcher on the first pitch. Infuriating. I’ve been there too. So, you go back into the dugout and let off some steam, however you feel inclined to do so. But then, it doesn’t end there. You decide to go out to your position of defense, scream into your glove (as if it had anything to do with it), and fire your warm-up throws what feels like 1,000 m.p.h. in an attempt to blow off some steam. Once the tingle in your arm wears off, the first batter of the inning hits the ball to you.


And you kick it.


How could this happen? Did you forget how to play defense now? First, you have a terrible plate appearance and now this? Well, this is the exact type of thought process that allowed this snowball to begin rolling in the first place. When one plays emotionally rather than playing with emotion, past failures can compound on one another and create an unscalable mountain of stress and anxiety.


So, if you’re not smashing coolers or trying to put a hole through your catch partner’s face, how do you know if you’re playing emotionally or playing with emotion? Players that play with emotion:


1. Use emotion to fuel intensity – the desire to compete and to win is what creates the emotion within.


2. Channel emotion to improve focus – can use emotion to sharpen focus and improve reactive decision-making.


3. Body language is controlled and confident – exudes a sense of calm and confidence, regardless of circumstances.


On the other hand, players that play emotionally:


1. Let emotion override rationality – choose to submit to negative emotions rather than push through and continue making constructive decisions.


2. Showing emotion is more important than the task at hand – broadcasting that they’re upset trumps being able to focus on the task in front of them at the moment.


3. Body language reflects emotions felt at that moment – “Wears emotions on sleeve.” Unable to put negative emotions to the side in necessary moments. One player remains calm and focused on the objectives directly in front of him, and the other lets what happens to him to dictate how he acts, both positive and negative. Highs are high and lows are low, and there is no gray area.


At the end of the day, you can’t allow outside circumstances dictate, or even affect, the way you go about your business, both in-game or at practice, etc. Use your emotions; don’t let your emotions use you. The difference could be career-changing.

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