10 Strategies Coaches Can Use to Optimize Emotions and Maximize Sport Performance

There are many strategies coaches can apply to more successfully address the emotion-performance equation that is part and parcel of athletic competition. This list focuses on 10 of the most important preventive and coping strategies you can apply as a coach to help your athletes control their range of emotions and maximize their performance (particularly in youth sport settings), as outlined in this recent Strategies article.

    Preventive Strategies

  1. Accept positive emotions and avoid negative emotions.
  2. Athletes need to be who they are and embrace their own unique emotional personality. Positive and negative emotions can have either optimal or dysfunctional effects on performance. The coach needs to review the latest research related to positive and negative emotions and encourage athletes to experience and ultimately identify those enhancing emotions and impairing emotions that impact them as individuals.

  3. Find the optimal zone.
  4. Athletes should get in touch with their emotional limits for practice and competition performances. Getting athletes to informally assess and acknowledge their emotional state and range of emotions before, during and after high-level and low-level performances can help to frame the emotional problem and hone in on their zone of optimal functioning.

  5. Remain in the zone.
  6. Athletes need to continually monitor and self-regulate to make sure they stay within their zone. This takes effort, practice and guidance from a coach. One means to tackle the inevitable emotional baggage that comes with competition and remain in the zone is to run through the seven R’s with athletes (responsibility, recognize, respond, release, regroup, refocus, and ready). This systematic approach to manage the emotional highs and lows that come with athletic competition can positively impact performance.

  7. Make logical and accurate appraisals.
  8. To help athletes make clear and accurate appraisals that produce enhancing emotions, the coach can show them credible and convincing data (e.g., statistical evidence, performance averages, video clips) that confirm their performance is close to their goal, is improving, or that with effort they can reach their goal.

  9. Rehearse and prepare for unanticipated situations.
  10. Athletes must learn to prepare for and deal with the unexpected so they can come to expect it and still maintain emotional stability. One way to do this is to teach athletes to visualize random, atypical, or demanding scenarios. In doing so, they will be better prepared to perform at a high level if one or more of those situations does indeed occur. Another strategy to deal with the unexpected is to introduce unexpected scenarios during practice.

    Coping Strategies

  11. Resolve internal tensions.
  12. Athletes need to deal with these issues rather than ignore them and let them fester and grow into more potent problems, because if left unresolved they can lead to emotional imbalance and debilitating outcomes. Consequences such as fatigue (both physical and emotional), illness, or impairing emotions can be the result of emotional turmoil and can affect not only the athlete’s conditioning and motor performance but also team morale, motivation and dynamics. It is important, therefore, to facilitate inner conflict resolution with athletes and encourage them to resolve issues, such as unrest with other teammates, in a mature and responsible manner.

  13. Listen to the positive voices in your head.
  14. Athletes are often their own (sometimes unconscious) worst enemy because they are heavily influenced by the voice in their head as well as negative and damaging self-talk. Explain to athletes the effect that destructive self-statements can have on their emotions and subsequent performance and formulate more positive and directive self-statements for them to use, inside and outside of practice and competition.

  15. Take care of body-mind and mind-body connections.
  16. Athletes need to be made aware of the importance of taking care of themselves and the link between good health and positive and enhancing emotions. Indeed, good health promotes good emotions and good emotions promote good health. It is necessary to encourage athletes to take personal responsibility for their overall health and well-being, as this can result in a more emotionally balanced and positive individual who is primed to perform at their best.

  17. Sort and make sense of emotional messages from others.
  18. Athletes and coaches should sort through the suggestions, opinions, ideas and comments given by other stakeholders (e.g., parents, spectators, other athletes, other coaches) and listen to the ones that encourage enhancing emotions and ignore the ones that elicit impairing emotions. Positive statements delivered by people who have the athlete’s best interests at heart and genuinely care need to be attuned to, as these supportive messages can encourage enhancing emotions.

  19. Keep body language in check.
  20. Athletes and coaches need to understand the effect that body language can have on their emotions and heighten awareness of their own body language, so they can manipulate their emotional countenance and the emotional messages being conveyed. In many instances, just having athletes modify their body language sends an intuitive appraisal message that can alter their emotions for the better. Coaches can employ body language analysis, observational learning and mental imagery to monitor and change (if necessary) their body language, emotional countenance and the emotional message they send to athletes.

Helpful Resources


Graeme Connolly
Graeme Connolly

Graeme J. Connolly is an associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Kinesiology at Augusta University, Augusta, GA. He has been involved in coaching youth soccer for more than 20 years and is an active scholar in the area of sports coaching pedagogy, particularly in youth and high school contexts (gconnolly@augusta.edu).