The Importance of Emotional Balance and How To Keep It

By Gary Maitland, @coach_maitland
Basketball Academy Director, Harrow High School, London, England

Elite performance in sport requires an advanced level of balance. Balance is a skill that is imperative for coaches to teach and essential for athletes to learn.

Coaches should be familiar with teaching good techniques for physical balance i.e. being able to perform a correct squat as a basketball player plays a crucial role in their overall performance within the sport. A controlled low stance allows the player to be explosive out of a ready or triple threat position as well as being able to effectively power step from a defensive stance.

Emotional stability, however, is often overlooked.

Optimum performance is achieved when there is harmony between your physical ability and your emotions. Even with fine tuned physical skills, a lack of emotional balance will cause performance to suffer. To have emotional balance means that you are in control and possess the ability to deal with mistakes and unexpected outcomes. Acknowledging that mistakes and setbacks are inevitable throughout every athlete's journey, how an athlete perceives those events will ultimately determine their degree of success.

Two of the many psychological factors that can affect the performance of an athlete are;

  • Competitive anxiety
  • Competitive arousal

Competitive anxiety can result in an athlete developing negative thoughts and expectations. Thoughts such as or similar to "I'm going to miss" by a player shooting a freethrow with no time left on the clock to win the game can have damaging effects to that player's performance. The player may be comfortable shooting hundreds of freethrows in practice every week but a negative thought process can override those hours of rehearsal.

Competitive arousal covers a continuum stretching from deep sleep through to extreme excitement. Performance is likely to deteriorate with low levels of arousal which can appear as lacking enthusiasm or interest. Performance can also suffer with high levels of arousal which can appear as a player trying too hard or being overexcited.

The inverted-U hypothesis of arousal illustrates that an athlete's peak performance will occur when an athlete is moderately aroused and therefore is able to display emotional balance.

Coaches have a responsibility to ensure that techniques to develop and maintain emotional balance are taught on a regular basis to encourage the mental and physical skills work in harmony together.

To ensure that anxiety and arousal levels do not get too high or low, there are a number of techniques that coaches can use. They are as follows;

  • Repeat affirmations such as, "I can do this" and "Today, I will work harder than anybody else" over and over again before an event.

  • Discourage players from verbalizing any negative thoughts. Change the "I can't" monologue to an "I will" conversation.

  • Mental rehearsal; encouraging players to close their eyes and imagine a perfect performance e.g. Shooting a freethrow with perfect technique, perfect follow through with a perfect finish.

Successful athletes will be able to demonstrate that they are able to cope with the physical and the psychological demands of their competition. Acknowledging that physical skills cannot be developed overnight, psychological skills also need time of purposeful practice in order to be effective.

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...


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Ken says:
11/11/2012 at 8:46:39 AM

Great article coach....

I know that its tough to be positive all the time but as coaches we need to come across more positive than negative. I'm really not sure how I used to come across.... too negative at times? I know that I always gave them kudos when they did things correctly.

I was a bear at practice, very demanding and I expected them to play as hard as they could all the time. I felt that would carry over to games since our practices were usually harder than our games.

As a varsity coach I can only remember one time getting on my players... ( I felt that they had not played hard - it had nothing to do with the score. ) Not bad for being a varsity coach for 17 years.

I made this comment in a coaching psychology class and this one woman challenged that statement. I (very nicely said ) you don't know me at all, why would you make that statement? Ask my assistant, he is sitting right next to you and he is brutally honest. (He always kept me in my place haha)

Sandwich a negative between two positives?

I know of one coach who asked his team what they thought was wrong with their team..... most of them said that they were afraid to lose... I think he missed their message.

Mental rehearsal; encouraging players to close their eyes and imagine a perfect performance e.g. Shooting a freethrow with perfect technique, perfect follow through with a perfect finish

Funny you say this - at times we had our players shoot free throws with their eyes closed.... counting on their muscle memory to guide them..... I always told them to trust in their form.. JMO


Alan Keane says:
11/10/2012 at 8:51:06 PM

Very good article Coach Maitland. Keep up the good work.


Coach Maitland says:
9/1/2012 at 1:55:08 PM

Thanks John and yes, I agree, not enough attention is put on 'positive psych'


john collup says:
8/4/2012 at 1:45:41 PM

geat drill for ballhandleing!!!
i think lotof coaches dont what i call positive
psych nearly enough.these suggestions are


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