Anger is the feeling; aggression is the behavior.
If asked to describe my disposition, I’m guessing those that know me outside of soccer would say something along the lines of kind, thoughtful, believes in the goodness of people, anxious. But should my new soccer mates be asked about the sort of person I am, I think they’d reply with everything opposite of zen. The topic of aggression in sports never really interested me until about six months ago, when I found myself becoming a bit angry on the soccer pitch.
The thing is, I don’t like angry Runner’s Delight. She’s the sort of person I’ve never been in “real life” – pretty much the complete antithesis of kind and thoughtful, and definitely someone I don’t want to see when I look in the mirror every morning. Angry Runner’s Delight shows up typically when members of the opposing team start pushing her or her teammates around, knocking into her, or being overly aggressive when they’re already better players and have no need to be. So I decided to do some research. Yay internetting!
First, I checked out sports aggression – I assumed this was my problem: I just get too aggressive during soccer. And there is lots of interesting information on this topic. Balisunset on Hubpages threw down this:
Individuals who participate in sports seem to exhibit higher levels of aggression than those who do not. However, this may be because sports attract people who are naturally more aggressive than non-athletes. Some sports are more likely to be associated with violence and inappropriate aggression. When provoked, for example, participants in contact sports reveal much higher levels of aggression than those in non-contact sports.
So if you’re a contact sports player, you’re more likely to have “the rage.” Strangely, I participate almost only in non-contact sports: running, swimming, biking. In fact, soccer is the only contact sport I have played with any sort of regularity since childhood. While it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my anger – the pissed off love company – I still want to know why, and what I can do about it on the field.
One thought as to why I, and others, are aggressive on the court is because society views being a bad-ass as being a good player. In the social science study Values and Violence in Sports Today: The Moral Reasoning Athletes Use in their Game and in their Lives by Bredemeier, Shields and Horn, they argue that aggression in athletes is directly related to the moral compass of those athletes. There seems to be a marked difference between game morals and every day life morals. So why are otherwise good people making poor choices on the field?
Well, the answer might be anger.
And this resonates with me. As a personal aside, I realized that I’m not aggressive on the soccer field – but I do get angry. There is a difference between the two, whereas I’ve often seen them as one unit. Separating them actually makes a lot of sense to me as a soccer player. I get angry. But in my real life, I don’t get angry very often. I’m mellow yellow soul cake. Weird, no?
Maybe not. In Playing mad- use of anger to stimulate athletic performance, Susan E. Davis writes:
Psychologists break down the anger process into several steps. “First, there is an event,'”explains psychotherapist Richard Pfeiffer, PhD, founder and director of Growth Groups, a group-therapy program based in New York City. “That event creates physical or emotional pain. Then you have a trigger thought that causes you to blame someone or something else for that pain. And then you have a strong drive to discharge the anger.
So an event in soccer – like the opposing player running into me at top speed then immediately calling me something my mom told me never to call anyone – causes pain on multiple levels, and my anger lever gets turned on.
Now that I know what’s happening, how do I channel that anger into an iceburg profile that the best athletes have? Davis suggests the following:
1. Learn to pause: Basically, note that the problem happened. Acknowledge it with a deep breath and consider your options.
2. Don’t vent: Keep your trap shut. Don’t vent to your team, don’t vent to the ref, don’t vent to the opposing player.
3. Convert anger to conviction: Play harder. Play smarter.
4. Develop a thought toolkit: Oh, Kristin’s positive coping skills come to mind. So know your course of action, and rehearse what you tell yourself in on-field anger situations.
I’m going to point out one more piece of anger wisdom, this time from Verne Kallejian: “It is easy to see that when you allow someone to make you angry when that person isn’t doing anything to you, you are transferring a lot of power over your well-being and mental health to another person. With irrational anger, good mental health habits require that you examine the situation carefully. You can talk to yourself about the reality of irrational anger. It may hurt or injure another person. It doesn’t help you at all.”
Of course, all of this sounds easier said than done. And frustratingly, none of this really answers the question of why I get like this only on the soccer field. But at least I have means to change myself, even without knowing the why behind it. Being a rational and moral person, I can make choices that are in the best interest of everyone. Perhaps really seeing the opposite team as people is going to make me less strong as a soccer player, but I think I’ll take that over being less strong as a person.