Hi. I ran across your web site while searching
for a christian sports psychologists for my 18 year old son.
I am going to give you brief facts in hopes that you can advise
me on how to help my son control his anger on the tennis court.
The following describes him anytime he is competing in tennis:
Constant putting himself down when makes a bad shot or is losing,
throws tennis balls, throws racquet, kicks balls, yells and is
very unpleasant to play with. As parents we have tried keeping
him out of key tournaments, making him pay for his racquets,
discussing how to control it, discussing what he is doing to
his future and how he is cutting off the hope of colleges recruiting
him etc., nothing is working. He openly communicates with us
and admits he has a problem. I don't know what he is angry about
except that he is losing. We are not a disfunctional home. My
husband and I have never been divorced, I am a stay at home mom,
my husband is a very involved father and has never acted out
anger while he is playing sports. Should we seek counseling?
Thanks for your time,
Dear Mrs. McKinney,
Your inquiry has been forwarded to me so that I might provide
you with some input from my perspective. My perspective involves
the relationship of self-esteem to athletic performance. Without
knowing all the facts, on the surface, it sounds like your son
is keeping some feelings bottled up that he is not sharing with
you or your husband. And when we bottle up our feelings, not
being honest with those with whom we come in contact, we lower
our self-esteem (withholding is a form of lying) and as our self
esteem is lowered, we create psychological baggage that affects
our focus. In addition, one of the characteristics of a low sense
of self-worth is that we have misdirected anger, which sounds
like what your son is experiencing. You mentioned that you were
seeking a "Christian counselor" which tells me that
you are a very devout family, which is good. But sometimes, a
young 18-year old may be engaging in some type of behavior away
from his family that he does not want to share with his family
because it would not be acceptable to his mother and father.
For example (and this is strictly an example), your son may be
involved in a relationship with a young lady or group that is
experimenting with marijuana or some other type of illegal drugs.
If this is so, he knows that you would look with extreme disfavor
upon that behavior so he may have chosen not to share his feelings
with you about his behavior away from the family environment.
Especially since you have such strong religious beliefs, I have
found that in almost 90% of the time when a young male or female
athlete is experiencing problems in their sport, there is very
often a member of the opposite sex involved in the disruption.
In this case, it could be (and again, I want to emphasize "could")
that your son has a girlfriend and he and she are engaging in
sex (which he certainly wouldn't want to share with you) or they
are experimenting with some type of illegal drug (which again,
he wouldn't want to share with you) or both. This involvement,
if it is true, would create enormous guilt feelings on his part
and would be the basis of generating a huge amount of misdirected
anger. My suggestion is to have him meet with a counselor (or
possibly his coach) and encourage him to be totally honest with
his counselor and/or coach and tell them exactly what is transpiring
in his life. Once he does this, and has someone to talk with
about his personal issues (without that person being judgmental)
and once he does not fear that he will elicit a response that
would indicate extreme disappointment from those he is sharing
his "secret" with (such as you and/or your husband),
I believe you will see a marked change take place in his behavior,
on and off the tennis court.
I am the mother of a 18 year old boy that is really struggling
with anger management on the tennis court. He competes all year
round except during high school soccer. We travel all summer
throughout different states playing high levels of competitive
tennis. He wants to play in college. We have absolutely tried
everything we know to get him to change. We are very strong in
our parenting. Both me and my husband are very focused on our
family life. What would you suggest we do to help him find a
way to handle this anger? It hurts his christian witness on the
court and definitely gives the opponent the advantage in the
Thanks for your letter. Based on my experience over the past
16 years working with athletes and sports teams, I do not believe
there is any such thing as "anger management." I don't
believe anger can be "managed." What I do believe is
that anger can and should be eliminated completely. In other
words, get rid of the anger, don't just learn to live with it.
And most anger in situations such as that described by you is
actually "misdirected" anger. Here's how it works:
Let's assume your son, who has been reared in a strong Christian
environment, has been living a life that does not adhere to your
expectations of him (and to your husband's as well.) Perhaps
- and I'm only using this as an example - but perhaps he is engaging
in some type of activity (or activities) which he knows you wouldn't
approve of, and so he keeps his feelings about these activities
hidden from you and has bottled them up inside himself. When
he does this, he lowers his own feelings of self-worth and creates
psychological baggage that affects his focus (which means he
is not performing anywhere near his skill level.) It also affects
how he interacts with others when involved in interpersonal relationships.
By bottling up his feelings and emotions, he may be angry at
you and your husband, but because he has chosen not to discuss
his issues with you (for whatever reasons), the anger may be
coming out in other ways..such as throwing his racket, etc. I
would encourage you to get your son into some type of counseling
so that he will have an outlet to talk about some of the feelings
he is carrying around within himself.. And as he begins to "unload"
them, he will begin to feel better about himself and his anger
will dissipate. I also think it wouldn't be a bad idea for you
and your husband to have some counseling so that you might examine
the types of expectations you've created for him based on your
strong religious backgrounds. And by the way, you are absolutely
right about his anger giving his opponent an advantage. When
we get angry, we give away our power.
I hope my comments will be of value to you.