Jones, M. (2003). Controlling emotions in sport. The Sport Psychologist17, 471-486.

by Rachel Webb


Given the large effect that emotion has been known to have on sports performance, this article aims to provide not only extensive support for the relationship between emotion and performance, but also provides strategies and techniques to enhance emotional control. The material in this article is largely based on Lazarus’ cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion, emphasizing that emotions occur when the individual appraises encounters with the environment as having either a negative or positive significance (meaning) for them and thus effects the motivation behind behavior (Jones, 2003). Since an emotion must happen as a response to something, research has made the simple connection to the cognitive process that will determine the relevance of the event in order to elicit the appropriate emotion for that individual. The research speaks to both a primary and secondary appraisal, primary looking at how stimuli relates to their goal and secondary appraisal explaining how they interpret their ability to cope with the stimuli. Jones also reviews the characteristics of emotional responses as revealed in three main elements. Physiological changes, which look at the level of arousal you are in, subjective experience or your personal interpretation of the event, and action tendencies, which are behaviors, elicited by the attempt to cope with the event.

Further discussion on the suggestion that an individual’s emotional state could influence motivation along with physical and cognitive functioning is presented. Athletes aim for an optimal emotional state for performance in order to generate the energy needed to preform and maintain the effort needed for a task, thus suggesting that dysfunctional emotional levels may result in an insufficient amount of energy (or motivation) to preform. In that same venue, cognitive resources can become limited as a result of other emotions such as worrying. This use of mental resources can either help an athlete allocate more energy towards a task, or drain them of the energy needed to be successful.

All optimal levels of emotion and need for cognitive resources is specialized to each individual athlete. For example a football player may need the excess emotion of anger to increase their strength and to complete a 10 second play, whereas a golfer may feel their fine motor skills being impaired by such high levels of anger because of the physiological and cognitive effect anger can have. The techniques discussed are extensions of the cognitive-behavioral approach, suggesting that our cognitive perceptions intermixed with our emotions will dictate our behavior, behavior being a good or bad performance. Jones examines an extensive list of strategies to provide emotional control for athletes comprised of self-statement modification, imagery, Socratic dialogue, corrective experiences self-analysis, didactic approach, storytelling metaphors and poetry, reframing, cognitive paradox, and problem-solving skills (2003). Although there has been clear evidence to support Lazarus’s cognitive-motivational-relational theory, it is suggested for future applied research to evaluate the techniques and their direct effects on individual athletes or the effects on teams as a whole.