top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Zajdel, PhD

How Are Emotions Related to Athletic Performance?

In athletics, emotions play an important role in shaping an athlete's performance. From the adrenaline rush before a competition to the elation of victory or the frustration of defeat, emotions are an intricate part of the sports experience.

It’s important not to ignore emotions because they can negatively interfere with your performance if you do not work through them.


The Emotional Roller Coaster

Athletes ride an emotional roller coaster during their journey. Before a game or competition, it's not uncommon to experience a surge of excitement, nervousness, or even anxiety. These pre-game emotions can significantly impact an athlete's mindset and readiness for the challenges ahead.

Positive Emotions as Catalysts

Positive emotions, such as confidence, joy, and enthusiasm, act as powerful catalysts for athletic performance. When an athlete is in a positive emotional state, they are more likely to perform at their best. Confidence, for example, boosts self-efficacy, resilience, and the ability to take risks, all of which contribute to peak performance.

Handling Negative Emotions

On the flip side, negative emotions like fear, frustration, or self-doubt can pose challenges. Managing these emotions is crucial for maintaining focus and composure during competitions. Coaches often work with athletes on strategies to turn negative emotions into constructive energy, helping them channel adversity into motivation.

The Impact of Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of an athlete's journey. While manageable stress can enhance performance, chronic or overwhelming stress can hinder it. Stress affects physical and cognitive functions, leading to fatigue, impaired decision-making, and decreased coordination. Effective stress management techniques, such as mindfulness or deep breathing, can mitigate these impacts.

Emotions in Training

Emotions aren't confined to game day; they permeate training sessions as well. Positive emotions during practice can enhance skill acquisition and reinforce positive habits. Conversely, negative emotions can hinder learning and skill development. Creating a positive and supportive training environment is essential for fostering emotional well-being and optimal performance.

The Zone

Athletes often speak of being "in the zone," a mental state where everything clicks, and performance feels effortless. This state is closely tied to positive emotions, focus, and a sense of complete immersion in the task at hand. Achieving this optimal state requires emotional regulation and a mindset that promotes flow.

Team Dynamics

Emotions extend beyond individual athletes to team dynamics. Team cohesion, trust, and effective communication contribute to a positive emotional climate within a team. Collective emotions can influence performance, making it imperative for coaches to nurture a supportive team culture.

Mental Resilience

Emotional resilience integral in sports. Resilient athletes bounce back from setbacks, view challenges as opportunities for growth, and maintain composure under pressure. Building emotional resilience involves developing coping mechanisms, maintaining a positive outlook, and learning from adversity.


While we don’t have control over our emotions (i.e., we can’t just “decide” to be happy), we do have control over our actions and how we manage our emotions. Below are some ways to work through emotions.

Label Emotions: Name your emotions using tools like an Emotion Wheel.

Self-awareness: Recognize and understand your emotions to address them effectively.

Pre-game routines: Establish rituals that help regulate emotions and create a focused mindset.

Positive self-talk: Replace negative thoughts with affirmations to boost confidence.

Visualization: Picture successful performances to enhance confidence and reduce anxiety.

Mindfulness: Practice techniques like meditation to stay present and manage stress.

In conclusion, emotions are not mere spectators in the arena of sports; they are active players that shape the narrative of an athlete's journey. Understanding, managing, and leveraging emotions can be the game-changer that propels athletes to peak performance and an enriching sports experience. After all, it's not just about mastering the game; it's about mastering the emotions that come with it.

If you want to better understand your emotions in relation to athletics, therapy can be helpful. Use the link below to get started with services!


bottom of page