The foot-fault was not the major issue, but it was how Serena Williams handled the situation at the 2009 US Open tennis semi-finals that mattered. In any case, watch for yourself :
The outburst is nothing new in competitive tennis (old-timers will remember John McEnroe in the early 80s) or for that matter in most other high-pressure sports, especially the English Premier League football competition. Largely due to intense rivalry and the necessity to perform consistently at one’s best, participating is always like being in a pressure-cooker, just waiting to explode.
Controlled aggression, like fist-clenching, shouting (to oneself!) and short outbursts of anger, are commonplace, indeed beneficial, because it makes the sportsman hyper-sharp mentally and may raise their performance level. However, when it goes out of control, then it becomes destructive. Football and tennis coaches spend a great deal of training time in controlling emotion and anger management, as these are now regarded as part and parcel of being professional.
What is anger management? When the response to anger becomes excessively inappropriate, manifested as violence,recklessness and abusiveness – it becomes a harmful emotion. Anger management are strategies to help control anger which has become self-destructive. One effective strategy (by Dr. Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick) outlines the following steps:
- Recognise stress – as stress causes anger, reduce stress before it turns to anger.
- Develop empathy – see things from the other person’s perspective.
- Respond, don’t react – choose how you respond to anger.
- Converse with yourself – recognize and modify your inner self-talk.
- Be assertive – communicate effectively how you feel without being emotional.
- Be realistic about expectations – minimising the gap between what you expect & what you get.
- Forgive & accept – the decision to “let go”prevents resentment (self-damaging).
- Retreat & Think Things Over – taking “time-out” and removing from the stress situation.
Back to Serena Williams -why did she fail to control her anger?
For one thing, tennis is an individual sport. There are no team-mates to pull her away or to help absorb the pressure, unlike football. Then there’s the element of human error by the umpire adding on to unnecessary stress; not to mention the close proximity of the sell-out crowd egging her on. All in all, the fact remains that she did not acquit herself well as a professional and will probably need more training in this area!
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