How to Deal With Frustrations in Sports

Frustrations happen during sports. Your job as an athlete is to make sure you don't get too upset and lose your composure. Learn how you can deal with frustrations as an athlete.

How is it that something you love so much can cause you such incredible amounts of frustration? One moment you’re playing with a smile on your face, and the next you want to throw your equipment across the field.

Why is it that sports can be so frustrating? And even more importantly, how can you deal with frustrations in sports as an athlete?

I played baseball…talk about a frustrating sport! I remember many times when I wanted to snap my bat in half (and a few times when I regrettably did).

What’s interesting, though, is that for the most part, when I did allow my frustrations to control me, the rest of the game only went downhill from there.

That’s what we typically see happen when we become too upset over a mistake, or any other frustrating situation during a game; it ignites a downward spiral of further mistakes and increased frustration.

As a mental performance coach this is something I work on a lot with athletes.

Because you and I both know that frustrations are going to happen, it’s just the nature of sports. And so the most important thing is learning how to deal with these frustrations as an athlete in a more positive and productive way.

What Causes Frustrations in Sports?

Think about a time you got really upset during a game…what was going on?

Was it after a mistake? This is one of the most common triggers that leads to athletes getting frustrated. Mainly because, you’re not out there with the goal of messing up.

Quite the opposite, probably. As a competitor you may even have the goal of playing perfectly (or at the very least, playing your best), and making a mistake does not equal perfection.

So what happens? Well, you get mad at yourself. Maybe this involves cursing yourself under your breath, thinking negative thoughts, or even kicking the dirt or yelling.

Another common trigger for frustration in sports is a bad call. When an official makes a call that you think is stupid or ends up hurting your team, this can quickly lead to you growing angry and upset over the decision.

So when we examine the two examples I just outlined, it seems clear that there is a trigger that leads to an emotion — that is what causes frustration in sports.

But there is one missing link that truly explains why you may be getting so upset and angry during a game, and that’s the beliefs you hold.

How Beliefs Lead to Frustration

Feeling frustrated during a game often looks different depending on the athlete and their personality. The way they show their frustration may vary. But inside, there’s a common occurrence taking place, no matter the situation.

There is a trigger, such as a mistake or a bad call, and this trigger ignites a belief. It is then the athlete’s internal response to the belief that leads to their emotional reaction (so, getting frustrated).

For example, let’s say you are a wide receiver and you just dropped a pass. What might your belief be at that moment?

You may begin to think that you can’t catch, that you’re not good enough, or that the quarterback isn’t going to throw you the ball anymore.

Now, when you hold onto those types of negative beliefs, it then makes sense why you would respond in a negative way. You’re going to get frustrated at yourself because of the beliefs you hold.

In contrast, what if the belief you had after you dropped the pass was that you truly are a great receiver and that you’ll get another opportunity later in the game. How frustrated do you think you’d be then?

Maybe still a little, because it’s not exactly fun to drop a pass, but you won’t lose your composure and get overly upset and frustrated, which only hurts you moving forward.

So we see it’s the belief you hold as an athlete, stemming from the trigger, that truly causes you to feel frustrated during a game.

What does that tell us? Well, it tells us that if we want to deal with frustrations better in sports, we need to work on changing beliefs.

Steps to Handle Frustrations in Sports

It’s not easy to handle frustrations, since they involve a strong emotional reaction you have during games. Plus, the beliefs I described in the previous section may not even be known to you.

But, with persistence and diligent effort, you can change your beliefs and learn how to manage frustrations in the moment. If you do, this will help you be a more composed and consistent player.

There are a few steps you can take, but the first step is going to be to identify the beliefs that are the true cause for the frustration you feel.

Step #1: Identifying Your Beliefs

To change beliefs, we first must understand what beliefs we hold.

So what you’re going to do is figure out what beliefs are the main driving force behind you getting frustrated during games. To do this, I want you to make a list of all the main triggers that cause you to feel frustrated or get upset.

Now, go through each situation and ask yourself, what is the belief I hold that is causing me to get upset?

I’ll give you an example that pertains to myself. I would get very upset after getting out while hitting. The belief I held was that I wasn’t a good hitter and that other people thought I was a bad hitter.

So go through and identify the beliefs you hold in relation to each of the triggers you wrote down.

Step #2: Reframing the Beliefs

Now that you have your beliefs identified, it’s time to begin changing them.

Beliefs are formed through repetitive thought. If you think something enough it transforms into a belief. So to change a belief, we need to take a similar approach.

Go through your list of triggers and beliefs and reframe each of the beliefs into a more positive and productive thought.

Going off the example I gave about myself, instead of thinking I can’t hit, I could reframe that to, I know I’m a great hitter and I’ll get it next time.

So for yourself, go through and reframe each belief.

Now that you have the beliefs reframed, it’s all about repetition. Each day reflect on your list and practice in your head reframing the old, negative belief, to the new, positive belief.

Then, as you get comfortable with that, your job is to apply the new belief whenever you are in a frustrating situation.

So, let’s say you just made a mistake. Instead of allowing yourself to get upset, you must begin thinking your new reframing statement.

Step #3: Changing How You See Yourself as a Player

Not only do we need to change the beliefs you hold in relation to the trigger, but we also need to change the belief you have about yourself and your ability to handle frustrating situations during games.

Right now, if you continue to see yourself as a player who gets upset after every mistake and allows frustrations to consume you, then that’s what you’re going to be.

Your job is to change that self-image.

A great exercise for this is to outline how you want to react following a mistake, bad call, or any other situation that typically causes you to get frustrated.

To help, here are a few questions to answer:

  • What do I want to think?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • What would other people see when they look at me?
  • How do I want to hold my body?

Once you have this all outlined, the next step is to begin to alter your self-image. Now this happens through a combination of visualization and real life experience.

What you can do to begin with is visualize yourself responding differently to mistakes. See yourself acting how you want to act.

Then, when you are in a triggering situation again and you do respond better, you need to really reinforce that after the game and go over how you responded differently to make that your new self-image.

Final Thoughts

There are many opportunities for you to get frustrated during a game, but that doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to get too upset or lose your composure.

When that happens you will likely continue to play worse, only leading to further and further frustrations.

When you become frustrated, whether it’s after a mistake, a bad call, or anything else, it is the belief you hold in that moment that is then leading to your emotional reaction.

So, the goal is to change that belief. If you can change the belief, you can change how you respond and not allow your frustrations to take over during a game.

Looking for more help on handling your frustrations as an athlete? Fill out the form below to learn more about one-on-one mental performance coaching!

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

Contact Success Starts Within Today

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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