In a sports environment many times we witness the rise of emotions, especially in tight score games with eliminating consequences on a stake. These emotions usually differ in intensity and the spectre in which they appear – i.e. joy, excitement, happiness, pride, anger, frustration, sadness – depending on the result of your team and your ability to control your own reactions.


“It is our responsibility to learn to become emotionally intelligent. These are skills, they are not easy, we need to learn them.”
– Paul Ekman –

Working as a sports psychologist in a sports environment many times I hear statements like this: “I was too emotional during the game and therefore could not perform well”, “I cannot show any emotions during the game because emotions will influence my performance and my decisions”, “If I am too excited or too sad it will not be good for my play”.

Of course, there is a certain point for saying that, and usually that’s what happens too, but to understand emotions deeper we need to acknowledge an important things – there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotions, all emotions have their own function and are important part of our being, of who we are as humans – they have their own function either to protect, inform, warn or direct us about the situation we are currently in. In order not to allow emotions to take control of our performance we need to understand there is a time, place, and intensity for these emotions to express.


“You are in control of your thoughts, emotions, and behavior, not the other way around.”

Basic emotions are universal (regardless of race, gender, culture, or language we speak) and have clearly identifiable facial expressions, but there are cultural differences in when these expressions are shown and how intensively(1)(2).

We are born with the capacity to express emotions, but when, where, and how we express them depend in large part on our background, upbringing, the social environment we were raised in, and the culture we live in.

In social contexts, we share our emotional experiences in various ways – mimicry, gestures, facial expressions, body language, words we use, things we say, actions we take. People in various cultures differ in what they have been taught about managing or controlling their expressions of emotion.

There are social conventions and cultural rules about which emotions you can show, for instance, “boys do not cry or look afraid”, “girls should not be aggressive and express anger”. Also, in some cultures, it is inappropriate to feel anger or even pride, in other cultures, shame and modesty are considered to be appropriate emotions.

There are many different types of emotions, feelings, and mood states people are capable of experiencing – i.e. joy, excitement, love, happiness, anger, frustration, fear, surprise, contempt, hate – but according to psychologist dr. Paul Ekman, there are six basic, universal emotions that people all around the world are able to express – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.


“Without knowing a person’s culture or a language, you can tell whether he or she is amused or infuriated just by looking at a person’s face.”

– Paul Ekman –


When looking at someone, you gather information about their emotional state and feelings from many sources, especially from facial expressions, body posture, muscle movements, the sound of the voice, words used, and the rhythm of speech (1)(2).

Individuals who generally have faster and stronger emotional responses will have a much harder time cooling off, and controlling such emotional behavior will not always work. Even if it doesn’t always work, it is important to practice and try.

By monitoring and analyzing our feelings we are more likely to increase our ability to spot the signs of how we respond but also to recognize how others respond emotionally too. This can also help us respond to others’ emotions and reactions in an appropriate way, and the key is to understand ourselves and others better.

Before we continue speaking about emotions in a sports environment (in the next article) I would like to recommend you to think about this: Do you compare people’s facial expressions with their body movements, posture, tone of voice? Do you notice the timing and duration of someone’s emotional expression? Are you aware of your own emotional reactions and the time/place/intensity when you express them?


  1. Ekman, P. (2003). Emotions revealed. Recognizing faces and feelings to improve communication and emotional life. New York, NY: Times Books
  2. Ekman, P. And Freisen, W.V. (2003). Unmasking the face. A guide to recognizing emotions from facial expressions. Cambridge, MA: Malor Books
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