Reframe Your Thinking After Bad Calls

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How do you respond to bad calls made by officials?

Do you get upset and let the umpire hear all about it?

Do you cuss under your breath or out loud about how terrible the ref is and how unfair the call was?

Or do you brush it off and move on quickly?

The truth of the matter is, bad calls happen. They’re not fun nor are they something to be happy about, but they’re part of sports. And from a mental game standpoint, how you react to these bad calls has a major impact on your performance.

So what I’m going to cover in this article is what we don’t want to have happen in terms of responding to bad calls, and then three tips you can use to handle these calls in a more effective way.

How You Don’t Want to Respond to Bad Calls

I can still feel the anger that used to boil inside when an umpire made a bad call. It was the low and outside corner that always used to get me. I swear, none of those called strikes were actually strikes!

Well…maybe a few of them were. But I sure as hell didn’t think so at the time.

Back in college, I honestly had a pretty tough time moving on from bad calls. I played baseball, so for me, bad calls came mostly in the form of called strikes, along with getting called out or a runner being called safe at first when I made a play at third base or shortstop.

At the plate, I would hang my head and feel defeated if there was a called strike early in the count. This distracted me and immediately lowered my confidence for the next pitch.

If the call was for a third strike, it rattled around in my head for at least an inning.

And in the field, if I made a good play and the umpire called him safe at first, I struggled to stop thinking about it for a few batters.

As I got older, and as I played past college, I learned how useless my frustration was following a bad call. Not only because I couldn’t do anything about the call, but also because of how distracting it was.

That’s the main thing we don’t want to have happen…allow the bad call to distract you moving forward.

When you’re distracted by a bad call, you aren’t as focused on the next play. You’re also not in the optimal mindset to compete at your highest level.

Just take the example I gave of an umpire calling a strike early in my at bat. I thought it should’ve been called a ball and so I got frustrated by it. I also knew my chances of striking out increased, causing my confidence to drop.

Due to how I responded to the bad call, I now had the thought of striking out on my mind and I wasn’t feeling very confident. Not exactly a recipe for a high quality at bat.

For yourself, after a bad call is made, how are you responding? If it’s anything like the way I used to, we need to work on changing that.

Because a bad call is one thing…letting it distract you and hurt your performance moving forward is a completely different story!

Three Tips to Respond Better to Bad Calls

When you react negatively to a bad call, this distracts you and hurts your mindset. Ultimately leading to a decrease in performance.

With the reason you’re mad about the bad call in the first place likely being the fact you think it hurts your chances of succeeding, you don’t want to make those chances even worse because of how you respond.

Therefore, it’s important to work on changing how you react to bad calls. To do this, we are going to focus on reframing the way you think after a bad call.

And to control your thinking, the first place we actually need to look is your breathing.

Tip #1: Focus on Your Breathing

Our goal is to reframe the way you think following a bad call. So why are we focusing first on how you’re breathing? What does that have to do with your thoughts?

Well, I want you to try something for me. Take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, count to five in your head. Then, as you exhale, count to five again.

Do that a few times.

Now, do you notice how your mind is a little calmer following the deep breaths?

When you take deep breaths, it begins to calm everything down. The breaths relax you physically, but they also relax you mentally. It is this mental calmness we are after following a bad call.

Think about a time you got angry after a bad call. How would you describe your mind? Would you say it was full of frustrating, racing thoughts? Or was it calm and under control?

I’m going to guess, if you were getting upset, your mind wasn’t very calm.

Now, imagine if after a bad call you were able to keep a clear head. Do you think you would allow yourself to get as angry?

Focusing on your breathing is a simple technique I also use to help move on from mistakes. The same idea applies to mistakes as with bad calls: calm your mind so you can gain more control over your thinking.

To use your breath to help reframe your thinking after a bad call, you can use the breathing technique I had you try earlier, where you inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five.

Do this a few times following a bad call.

Tip #2: Focus on What You Can Control

Can you control a bad call? The answer (unless you are the official) is obvious…no.

You cannot control a bad call.

Well, if you can’t control a bad call, why get angry over it?

Now I know it’s not as simple as that. Bad calls trigger quick emotional responses that are difficult to control in the moment.

However, remembering this key point that bad calls made by an official are absolutely out of your control is fundamental to reframing your thinking.

When a bad call is made, and you find yourself frustrated, what we see is your focus fixed on the call itself.

This may involve you thinking about how terrible the call was or how much it hurts you or your team.

Either way, you are focused on the bad call.

But at any given moment during a game, you need to be focused only on what you can control. Since the controllables are what will allow you to perform at your highest level.

By focusing on something you can’t control (like a bad call), you distract yourself and hinder your mindset.

So what we need to do is get your mind off the bad call and focused on what you can control at that moment.

Going off the example from earlier about me hitting in college, when a strike was called at bat, I could and should have focused on many other things besides the call itself.

I could have focused on my pre at bat routine, some positive self-talk, looking for a good pitch for the rest of the at bat, and so on.

For yourself, when a bad call is made, always remember to focus on what you can control. Because the truth is, that is the only way you’re going to have any influence over the situation.

Tip #3: Refocus on Something Simple

In addition to reminding yourself what you can control after a bad call is made, we also need to think about what you’re focused on for the next pitch, possession, or play.

If a bad call lingers in your mind for a few plays, just think about how much of a negative impact that will have on your game.

Instead, you need to let the bad call go and refocus on how you can do your best moving forward.

One of the best ways I’ve found to accomplish this is by focusing on something simple. This is also known as focusing on an objective.

Going off the previous tip, we want this objective to be 100% controllable.

A good example is a basketball player who gets a foul called on them on the defensive end. Instead of getting upset over the foul, once the free throws are taken, they run down the court and keep their mind focused on off ball movement.

For them, off ball movement is a great way to get back into the rhythm of the game.

For yourself, choose a simple objective you can focus on following bad calls to get your mind off the call and yourself back to playing at your highest level possible.

Final Thoughts

Bad calls are irritating and frustrating. But they’re also completely out of our control as athletes.

Which is why it’s important you reframe your thinking following bad calls.

You don’t want to allow a bad call to distract you or mess with your mindset. That’s how bad calls really have a negative impact on your game.

Instead, you want to take some deep breaths to calm yourself down, focus on what you can control, and then refocus onto a simple objective to get back into the rhythm of the game.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

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.

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