Sports Psychology, Anger Management In Sports: Why Do Some Athletes Snap?
Recently, I appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America. A producer asked me to comment on the the recent violent act in the Ranger vs. Islander hockey game.
I have written on violence in sports in the past and I have been interviewed by the British Broadcasting Company on this subject. However, this most recent act caused me think a bit more about what causes this kind of vicious behavior and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
I believe that some of the athletes who behave violently are people who were raised in dysfunctional families where they were exposed to violence, cruelty, substance abuse and chaos. These kinds of environments do little to foster the development of qualities like kindness and empathy.
To make matters worse, some violent athletes are currently abusing drugs, alcohol and/or steroids which can intensify their internal rage.
Some of the violence can be attributed to the fact that many athletes have failed to learn how to control their emotions because they have devoted so much of their time to mastering their craft, which is their sport. In short, they are physically quite talented, but they are emotional quite undeveloped and quite immature.
Many of the sports we love like football and hockey have a violent component to them, and athletes are, in some instances, rewarded for being tough and very physical competitors. It is sometimes difficult to control one’s aggressiveness once some of it is allowed, appreciated and rewarded.
Top athletes are held in high regard in our society and sometimes get special treatment, special favors and special attention during their formative years. This “special treatment” can give rise to a feeling of grandiosity which can lead some athletes to feel as if they are “above the law” and not susceptible to punishment. Consequently, they have difficulty thinking about the consequences of their actions.
Some athletes may suffer from one of several a psychiatric illnesses like intermittent explosive, oppositional defiant disorder, depression or narcissistic personality disorder. People with these kinds of illnesses can have trouble controlling their rage and have difficulty being concerned about other people’s feelings. Harming others may not bother them the way it is apt to disturb most of us. Players with these kinds of conditions can be quite dangerous on and off the field.
It is also important to remember that athletes are human and a violent act on the playing field may be related to some frustration that they are experiencing in another aspect of their life. A conflict with a wife or lover can cause an athlete to have a bad day at “their office” which is a court or a playing field.
Some athletes get fired up by crowds and the fans. Like rock stars and entertainers, some sports stars thrive on the attention and the adoration they get from large numbers of people. Top athletes may get caught up the fans’ enthusiasm and lose control of their emotions and their behavior.
Leagues can help to minimize violence in sports by having clear and strict penalties for violent acts. I have helped many athletes to manage by teaching them anger management technique, meditation, visualization and self-hypnosis. These kinds of programs should be included in many organized sports programs. And it is probably a good idea to start this kind of training with young athletes while athletes are in their formative years.
Athletes who demonstrate a pattern of violent behavior need to be evaluated and referred for the appropriate kind of mental health counseling. Some leagues may resist these kind of interventions, but I believe these kinds of programs are essential if violence in sport is to be minimized.