The Power Of Body Language In Sports
When something occurs too many times, it’s difficult to pinpoint one instance, or story, to describe it best. That’s how I feel about my own poor body language when playing sports.
What I want to share is less of a single instance, and more of an ongoing theme that conveys how terribly I used to manage my own body during baseball games.
The scenario would typically look something like this:
I had just gotten out at the plate, or made an error in the field (or one right after the other). Anger, embarrassment, and sadness took hold of me as I stood in the infield between pitches.
To match how awful I felt on the inside, my head would hang low accompanied by the sulking of my shoulders. It was now time to top off my typical pity party by the kicking of dirt.
Swiping the infield dirt beneath my cleats, there came a sound. One I grew way too familiar with hearing. Oh it would piss me off to hear this voice echoing into my ears. There’s nothing like someone coming in and ruining you feeling sorry for yourself.
The voice was that of my mom, yelling at me to get my head up.
She always could tell how I was feeling based on my body language. And when that head went down and the dirt began to cloud around my feet, my mom knew more failures were quickly to follow.
Even though it was irritating to hear her voice, deep down I knew she was right. My mom understood a very basic truth when it comes to athletic success…the power of body language.
The Power of Body Language
There were many reasons my mom was so adamant I pick my head up and stop kicking the dirt after making a mistake.
For one, this signified to my coaches, teammates, the other team, and the fans that I was defeated. The adversity I had recently experienced appeared too much for me to handle.
How do you think that was perceived by my teammates and coaches? I’m sure it did little to instill confidence in them.
On top of the perception body language gives others, there was the inevitability of bringing about further failures due to my poor reaction and defeated body language.
And then there was the fact that once my body language changed, so did my approach to each pitch in the field and up to bat.
I was less focused and ready, all due to the way I was holding my body.
These areas really encompass the power of body language within athletics. Let’s examine each one more closely to see how they can be used, either positively or negatively, to impact our performance.
Body Language & Confidence
When addressing body language and its impact on mood, the number one area within our mood that is going to have a direct influence on our performance is confidence.
The way you hold your body can either raise or lower your confidence. Tony Robbins talks a lot about altering your state. This, he says, can be done by holding your body in a different way.
Think back to the example I gave earlier. The way I described my body language. Do you think that would positively or negatively affect my confidence?
It did nothing but pull down my already dwindling confidence.
However, I could just as easily have reversed the way I felt by holding my body in a different manner.
Your body is linked to your mood, especially the confidence you feel in the moment. So your body language has the power to uplift you when feeling down, increase confidence while anxious, and help you feel proud when insecure.
However, it can just as easily increase feelings of self-doubt, drive negative self-talk, and keep you from being able to bounce back from a mistake.
That’s why you need to learn to master your body language in all situations.
How Your Body Language Impacts Others
Have you ever had a teammate who sulked after a mistake?
How did you feel being around them? Did their reaction ignite feelings of motivation and confidence within you? Or did their actions suck the energy out of you, making you begin to feel as they do?
It’s very difficult not to feed off the energy of those around us. Think about how you feel around your teammates when they have poor body language, and now imagine how they must feel when you’re doing the same.
Is that the kind of influence you want to have on your teammates?
Whether you’re a leader or not, your mood is going to affect others. The first indication of how you’re feeling is the way you hold your body. So, by having poor body language you are hurting your teammates by feeding them negative energy.
On the other hand, if you present yourself as confident and high energy, they are likely to feed off that. In this way, you can benefit your teammates through your body language. It’s all a matter of paying attention to how you hold your own body.
The Coaches Perception Of You
I do not typically advocate concern on the athlete’s part over what anyone is thinking of them. However, the truth is (as unfortunate as it may be at times), coaches are the ones with the power over your playing time.
With that truth known, there needs to be a degree of thought as to how the coaches are perceiving you.
Besides talent, coaches look for athletes who have positive attitudes. Throughout my years playing, and many showcase events I went to, one of the main points coaches and recruiters harped on was attitude.
You may think of yourself as someone with a very positive attitude and strong character. However, no matter what you think on the inside, this fact may not be agreed upon by coaches if you continually hang your head after each mistake.
Over time, this is going to reduce their confidence in you and lead to the possibility of you getting benched. Even if your performance is good, no coach wants to keep playing an athlete who appears to have a poor attitude.
Be Ready To Make The Next Play
Your body's what's doing the work while performing. However, it is a tool through which your mind operates. Therefore, both need to be in harmony, focused and attentive, in order to play your best.
The mental aspect is going to lag behind if you fail to get your body in a state where it’s ready to perform.
After you make a mistake, if your head is hanging and shoulders are slouched, you have failed to place yourself in the optimal position physically to succeed the next play.
For me, this involved being in a ready position in the infield, expecting to be hit the ball. I had to be ready, engaged with my body, and having my mind follow suit.
Whenever I allowed my body language to drop due to the negative feelings I was experiencing, there was an increased likelihood of making a mistake the following play.
This was due to me not being prepared with my body, and so I was a step behind. Just by getting ourselves more engaged physically before each play, we increase our chances of success.
Leverage Your Body Language For Success
There are many negatives that are experienced when you allow your body language to turn sour. However, these can all be counteracted by taking control of the way you hold your body. Especially after making a mistake.
How we respond to failures is always up to us. Though it may not seem as if it’s in our control, the truth is, it is. Your emotional response, my emotional response, they are both within our own power.
With that being said, the actual act of controlling your emotions is extremely difficult. But, what’s much easier, and works to give you such control, is managing your body's reaction.
While the mind may be more difficult to manage, your body language is as simple to control as forcing yourself to stand in a different position.
It’s easy to have good body language when you are succeeding. The true test comes when you face adversity. Knowing that, here are a few keys to remember so you can be sure you’re leveraging your body language for success, and not allowing it to hinder your performance.
Force Yourself To Keep Your Head Up
I know you’re feeling down after a mistake, but don’t allow your outward appearance to match your inward emotions.
Let me ask you this, do you enjoy the feeling you get after making a mistake?
No? Okay, then why would you do something that not only perpetuates that feeling, but places you in a position to make even more mistakes in the future?
Everyone knows you feel bad. Don’t think you need to show them just how upset you are by allowing your head to hang. There is no courage in showing defeat after a setback.
Real strength of mind is revealed when someone fails, keeps their head up, ready to keep pushing.
Be that person!
After you make a mistake, force yourself to hold your head high. Pretend as though you just made the best play in the world. This will raise your confidence and keep the failure from snowballing into many more.
Walk As Though You Are The Best
Growing up, I got so irritated at the guys who would walk up to bat with this cockiness about them. I thought, “Who do they think they are?”
Oh, it would just piss me off.
But you know what? They often had performances that matched their confident stature.
You may think that their walk came from the fact they performed well, but I believe it’s the other way around. These guys performed in a way that matched their body language. Because their body language was an indication of the confidence they felt within.
For you, even if you don’t feel as though your talents allow you to do so, walk as if you were the best. Don’t be obnoxious, but have a quiet air of confidence that is highlighted by your proud stature as you walk on the field/court.
You train hard, don’t you? So why shouldn’t you be able to hold your head high, believing in the talents you’ve put hours into developing?
Train Confident Body Language
This is going to mainly occur away from your sport. Initially, you might find it's difficult to keep your body language positive after a mistake.
For this reason, it’s important to begin training positive body language in a safe environment. One of my favorite ways to do this is by holding a power pose in the morning.
After you wake up, stand in a way that generates a feeling of confidence and power within.
This is benefiting you in two ways. First, it is instilling a feeling of confidence that will carry with you throughout the day. Second, it is training your mind to respond with a confident and positive emotion when you hold yourself in that way.
What this means is, whenever you feel insecure, frustrated, or like a failure during a game, you can hold your body in the way you’ve been training and your mind will respond positively.
Another way to train is by walking around in a more confident manner. When I first began seriously working on my body language, I would walk the halls of my apartment complex, overly exaggerating my chest up and head held high.
You may want to begin doing this when no one is around, because it does feel silly. But just take every moment you can to train the body language you know is going to benefit you come game time.
There is a direct link between your body language and the emotions you feel. While it’s easy to slouch after making a mistake, it’s the worst possible action you can take.
All this is going to do is further the negative emotions you are already experiencing. Instead, you need to train yourself to hold your body in a confident way, no matter what you are feeling on the inside.
By doing so, you will help yourself overcome adversity quicker, placing yourself in a position to succeed in the next play.
Remember to always keep your head up after a mistake, walk like you’re the best (you may end up being so as a result), and start training yourself, daily, to control your body language.
Body language is powerful, the choice is yours whether this power is hurting or helping you.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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