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Jerry Ballgame takes a deeper look at emotions as a driving force in sports.

Regardless of you role, be it participant, observer, or chronologist, it should be apparent to you that emotion is a very significant factor in the equation we call sports. It varies from sport to sport, depending on intensity and contact levels, explosiveness and  the degree of concentration, but it is  always there. Whether or not the contest is happening inside what may pass as one of the seven wonders of the world, with the “world championship” on the line or on a beach somewhere with the losers buying the beer, emotion is part of the process. In most cases, it’s the team with the greatest skill , including the ability to effectively focus their emotions, that wins.

Sometimes a team can be burdened by a city’s real world emotions (such as the Yankees in 2001 and Bruins this year) and, although it can inspire them to perform amazing comebacks, it can still prove to be too much of a burden for them to carry. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like almost every time a Boston team would start a game this spring with a tribute to the victims of the bombing or the first responders, they would lose that game. I could not help but feel that, although the game was providing us with a rallying point, we could not escape the fact that a sporting contest was still “small potatoes” when compared to the pain and suffering going on in the community and the nation. It was a reminder that life goes on. It may not go on exactly how we want it to, but it goes on.

I understand that the events in New York in 2001, as well as Boston this April, are on the extreme end of the emotional scale, but it still got me to thinking about the part emotion plays in sport, about how athletes and fans handle it and the overall effect those factors have on us all. Let’s face it, professional sports–especially football–have a major impact on our culture, our social media and on large parts of our economy, so taking what is basically a serious look at this aspect of it makes sense to me. With that it in mind, I’m going to introduce to you some of my theories regarding the role of emotions in sports.

Kevin Youkilis, Paul O'Neill
Can emotional leaders really help spark wins? (New York Times)

1) Emotion has its biggest impact on sports where contact and hitting are an important part of the game. This is an obvious reference to football, but could include hockey, as well.

2) Too much emotion is physically draining. I believe that one of the most important roles of a coach is to have his/her players peaking both physically and emotionally at the right time. We have all seen teams come up “flat” for a big game. This is a failure on the coach’s part to properly prepare their team emotionally. Ironically enough, Bill Bilichick, one of the most unemotional of individuals, has been very successful at this, while the emotional Rex Ryan, has not.

3) Too much emotion leads to bad penalties and poor decision making. This is especially true in hockey, and in special teams play in football.

4) Baseball has too long a season and is too slowly paced to have emotional players be successful. You can probably count on your fingers the number of players who approached the game with a great deal of emotion and who have had long successful careers. The Yankees Paul O’Neill and Kevin Youkilis, when he was in Boston, are possible exceptions. Since they tend to play extra hard, they often suffer an unusual number of injuries.

5) There is no such thing as an “emotional leader” in real life. This is something that TV announcers and color commentators have made up. There are some athletes who can inspire with their words, but it is in their performance where the leadership truly lies.

6) Basketball games have  ebbs and flows of both emotion as well as scoring. Successful basketball teams are the ones who have the strength to make stops and take back the momentum.  Teams who have several tough games in a relatively short span are often more emotionally drained then physically tired.

7) Visiting teams gain emotional strength from taking the crowd out of a game. Although true in any sport, I believe it’s especially so in baseball and football, where you can have 40 or 50,000 people sitting around in silence.

Look, I have been participating in and watching sports since the Eisenhower Administration, and these seven theories represent some of the observations I have made over the years. There will be more. I feel fairly certain I am right about these statements, but I am open to discussion.

Anyone how there want to add to the list?

About Jerry Ballgame

The personification of "old school", Jerry Ballgame was born in the shadow of Dr. Naismith's peach basket, and baptized in that "Dirty Water." Designated by his "Uncle" Ted, to keep an eye on things, he's here to tell everyone what his view is like from the Hub of the Universe.