Misguided Anger Question & Answer

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Hi. I ran across your web site while searching for a christian sports psychologists for my 18 year old son. I am going to give you brief facts in hopes that you can advise me on how to help my son control his anger on the tennis court. The following describes him anytime he is competing in tennis: Constant putting himself down when makes a bad shot or is losing, throws tennis balls, throws racquet, kicks balls, yells and is very unpleasant to play with. As parents we have tried keeping him out of key tournaments, making him pay for his racquets, discussing how to control it, discussing what he is doing to his future and how he is cutting off the hope of colleges recruiting him etc., nothing is working. He openly communicates with us and admits he has a problem. I don't know what he is angry about except that he is losing. We are not a disfunctional home. My husband and I have never been divorced, I am a stay at home mom, my husband is a very involved father and has never acted out anger while he is playing sports. Should we seek counseling? Thanks for your time,

Mrs. Mckinney


Dear Mrs. McKinney,

Your inquiry has been forwarded to me so that I might provide you with some input from my perspective. My perspective involves the relationship of self-esteem to athletic performance. Without knowing all the facts, on the surface, it sounds like your son is keeping some feelings bottled up that he is not sharing with you or your husband. And when we bottle up our feelings, not being honest with those with whom we come in contact, we lower of self-esteem (withholding is a form of lying) and as our self esteem is lowered we create psychological baggage that affects our focus. In addition, one of the characteristics of a low sense of self-worth is that we have misdirected anger, which sounds like what your son is experiencing. You mentioned that you were seeking a "Christian counselor" which tells me that you are a very devout family, which is good. But sometimes, a young 18-year old may be engaging in some type of behavior away from his family that he does not want to share with his family because it would not be acceptable to his mother and father. For example (and this is strictly an example) your son may be involved in a relationship with a young lady or group that is experimenting with marijuana or some other type of illegal drug. If this is so, he knows that you would look with extreme disfavor upon that behavior so he may have chosen not to share his feelings with you about his behavior away from the family environment. Especially since you have such strong religious beliefs. I have found that in almost 90% of the time when a young male or female athlete is experiencing problems in their sport, there is very often a member of the opposite sex involved in the disruption. In this case, it could be (and again, I want to emphasize "could") that your son has a girlfriend and he and she are engaging in sex (which he certainly wouldn't want to share with you) or they are experimenting with some type of illegal drug (which again, he wouldn't want to share with you) or both. This involvement, if it is true, would create enormous guilt feelings on his part and would be the basis of generating a huge amount of misdirected anger. My suggestion is to have him meet with a counselor (or possibly his coach) and encourage him to be totally honest with his counselor and/or coach and tell them exactly what is transpiring in his life. Once he does this, and has someone to talk with about his personal issues (without that person being judgmental) and once he does not fear that he will elicit a response that would indicate extreme disappointment from those he is sharing his "secret" with (such as you and/or your husband), I believe you will see a marked change take place in his behavior, on and off the tennis court.

Marv Fremerman


Related Letter

I am the mother of a 18 year old boy that is really struggling with anger management on the tennis court. He competes all year round except during high school soccer. We travel all summer throughout different states playing high levels of competitive tennis. He wants to play in college. We have absolutely tried everything we know to get him to change. We are very strong in our parenting. Both me and my husband are very focused on our family life. What would you suggest we do to help him find a way to handle this anger? It hurts his christian witness on the court and definitely gives the opponent the advantage in the match.

Thanks,
Chrystal


Dear Crystal,

Thanks for your letter. Based on my experience over the past 16 years working with athletes and sports teams, I do not believe there is any such thing as "anger management." I don't believe anger can be "managed." What I do believe is that anger can and should be eliminated completely. In other words, get rid of the anger, don't just learn to live with it. And most anger in situations such as that described by you is actually "misdirected" anger. Here's how it works: Let's assume your son, who has been reared in a strong Christian environment, has been living a life that does not adhere to your expectations of him (and to your husband's as well.) Perhaps - and I'm only using this as an example - but perhaps he is engaging in some type of activity (or activities) which he knows you wouldn't approve of, and so he keeps his feelings about these activities hidden from you and has bottled them up inside himself. When he does this, he lowers his own feelings of self-worth and creates psychological baggage that affects his focus (which means he is not performing anywhere near his skill level.) It also affects how he interacts with others when involved in interpersonal relationships. By bottling up his feelings and emotions, he may be angry at you and your husband but because he has chosen not to discuss his issues with you (for whatever reasons), the anger may be coming out in other ways..such as throwing his racket, etc. I would encourage you to get your son into some type of counseling so that he will have an outlet to talk about some of the feelings he is carrying around within himself.. And as he begins to "unload" them he will begin to feel better about himself and his anger will dissipate. I also think it wouldn't be a bad idea for you and your husband to have some counseling so that you might examine the types of expectations you've created for him based on your strong religious backgrounds. And by the way, you are absolutely right about his anger giving his opponent an advantage. When we get angry, we give away our power.

I hope my comments will be of value to you.

Sincerely,

Marv Fremerman


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