Sports Frustration
Sports Frustration
Dear Tacit,

My son plays sports – and he gets quite negatively emotionally worked up after each game (focuses only on his mistakes).  Do you have any strategies that can help him enjoy the activity more?

Signed: Sports Frustration

Dear Sports Frustration,

It sounds like your son is passionate in the commitment and drive he has for the sport that he plays.  That is commendable.  But I understand what you mean if the feeling he holds onto after a game seems to be mostly negative.  There will ALWAYS be bad games – mistakes get made – and even if a player does everything really well, a team can still lose.  It is a recipe for burnout and imbalance if those less than positive moments are all consuming for your son – it can start to take a toll on his confidence in other aspects of his life, as well.

Here are some ways to help your son learn how to be a little easier on himself, so he can grow and adapt, instead of feel defeated:

If your son has something specific that has caused him to feel frustrated, disappointed or upset at the outcome of a game, encourage him to process those feelings as soon as possible (not sit and stew in the rumination/over-thinking that is so easy to fall into).  Suggest that he engages in another (solo) physical activity for a short while – nothing strenuous, but enough to burn off the energy that those negative emotions are producing in him.  He can go for a swim, or a short run/power walk, or a bike ride, etc.  He will want to be thinking about the “mistakes” while he is burning off the feelings (not distract himself with the physical activity).

If your son starts to question his skills and abilities (thinks that he is not good enough – especially in comparison to others that played), encourage him to verbalize those doubts for a short while, to someone he trusts (you don’t want him stuffing the thoughts).  Then prompt him to refocus on what he feels he did do well.  If you watched the game, take note of those moments when your son shone brightly.  This might be a time when he was “in the zone” and performing well.  Or it might also be a moment when he kept trying/pushing himself when things were not going so well. Ideally, you want your son to come up with his shining moments himself, but you might need to get him started.

When your son is venting about/discussing the mistakes he might have made in the game, keep it to a set amount of time.  This review is helpful and is the foundation for growth and change.  But this has to be a limited process, or he can get stuck in feelings about a situation that is now over (there is no way to change that outcome, so he doesn’t want to get anchored to it).  Instead, he needs to pump himself up for what he will do in the next game – how things will be different.  He needs to envision those corrections so they can become his reality (if he envisions the mistakes too much, it’s likely that is what he will end up repeating).

Your son may start to worry that he will keep messing up in the same ways – that he “can’t” get any better.  Once that kind of self-doubt creeps in, he might start to self-sabotage – by over-thinking in the moment, or playing too carefully – which can lead to the same negative outcomes, just from a different direction. And then it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts!  The way around this is to help him use his mind in a different way.  (There is a great tool he might want to try – the WOOP Technique.)  If he can start to visualize himself having great success and if he uses his physical body to go thru the motions that his mind is seeing with the positive outcomes, he is establishing muscle and cell memories founded in growth and change.

As he moves into his next games, help your son set some realistic goals for himself.  Based on the growth he wants to see happen, what would be some of the markers of success that he needs to accomplish along the way?  If his end goal is to be top-scorer for the team (for example), he must first be able to improve his personal best from the last game.  Help him build a staircase of smaller steps that propel him in the direction of his final goal.  This will prevent him from developing an “all-or-nothing” mentality that suggests he must be perfect every time or else he is not good enough.  And he will be able to enjoy the dopamine rush (and the confidence building) that comes from success at every one of those steps forward – not just at the end, when he achieves the final goal (which might take more than one season).

Hope this helps!

Take care!

Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at Your answer will be provided confidentially. 

Want to start your counselling today?
Make an Appointment

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tacit Knowledge Logo

Sign Up For Our Newsletter