When Coaches Rage: Coaches Who Care More About Opinions of Others More Likely to Explode in Anger

Dr. John Schinnerer

This doesn’t have to do with positive psychology. But as a soccer coach of 10 years, this is near and dear to my heart…

I was recently approached by a major TV network to do a reality show involving coaches with severe anger problems. While this seems to be good for ratings, it does not bode well for the well-being of the coaches involved in the two week project. First, little change in long-term emotional behavior will occur in two weeks. Second, close proximity to other angry people will typically serve to reinforce outbursts of ire. Simply dropping an anger management expert into the mix is unlikely to have any real effect on anyone’s behavior. Perhaps the show can be reworked so the coaches can benefit along with the network.


Being involved in anger management, sports psychology and misbehavior coaches, it was with great interest that I came across this recent research showing that the more a coach pays attention to the opinions of others, the more likely he or she is to react with anger….


A minor league baseball coach punches his assistant coach in the face for being questioning his on-field call. A basketball coach horse collars his own player as runs by in the middle of the game. A hockey coach screams insults at his goalie for letting in the game clinching goal.


Anger management class online free expert doctor
Angry coaches care more about others’ opinions of them

Coaches who focus more on internal values, their own high standards tend to be less captivated by the opinions of others and are significantly better at controlling feelings of rage and frustration, compared to coaches who focus intently on others’ opinions of their performance.


This means that the anger of coaches, and to an extent all of us, can be partially explained by being overly concerned with what others think, how others perceive us, according to new research the University of Leeds and Northumbria University.


The study found coaches who stay focused on their own internal values and standards are less interested in the opinions of others and are significantly better at managing anger than those who are acutely aware of others’ opinions (think the sports pundits on ESPN).


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What are we teaching our children with the anger of youth coaches?

Dr Andrew Hill, lecturer in sports and exercise science in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, stated, “Outbursts of anger from coaches are a familiar feature of many sports at many different levels — from Alan Pardew’s headbutt to a recent attack by a coach on a linesman in an Under-14 rugby match. This isn’t good for anybody. You want a calm and analytic mind on the sidelines, but we found that some features of personality may make this more difficult.”


The researchers questioned 238 coaches across a wide range of sports including football, rugby, hockey, baseball, swimming and basketball. Most of the coaches were involved in amateur sport and their average age was 24.


The results show that coaches with “high personal standards”, meaning that they set their own high standards and focused less on other people’s evaluations of their performance, were better at managing their emotions. They showed more ability to reinterpret negative feelings and see situations in a more positive, prosocial manner.


On the other hand, coaches who placed more weight on perceived criticism from others were driven by a fear of making mistakes. They had less ability to manage their emotions and were more at risk of exploding in anger (and possibly uncontrollable rage).


Dr. Hill reported, “Those who believe others expect them to be perfect appear to have more difficulty controlling their emotions. As a consequence, they will be more prone to emotional outbursts.”


Co-author Dr. Paul Davis, Senior Lecturer in Sport at Northumbria University, said: “The pursuit of perfect performance drives some coaches, but the dynamic nature of sport sets them up to experience intense emotions when their standards are not met. Moreover, emotions are contagious; a coach who is unable to regulate their own anger may actually undermine an athlete’s performance. In a worst case scenario, a coach who has limited capacity to regulate their emotions is putting themselves in a position where they may end up doing the one thing they really want to avoid.”


As we gain more awareness of what good coaching entails, it is my fervent hope that coaches will begin to take responsibility for their own emotional states and work diligently to manage their emotions in a constructive manner whereby the needs of the players, the needs of the team and the pursuit of winning are balanced with awareness and intention.

Let’s keep trying. We can do better.


Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com 
Anger management blog:
Twitter: @johnschin

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew P. Hill, Paul A. Davis. Perfectionism and emotion regulation in coaches: A test of the 2 × 2 model of dispositional perfectionismMotivation and Emotion, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11031-014-9404-7

Mindfulness Training Changes Brain Structure in As Little As Eight Weeks

Mindfulness is a 2500-year-old practice that focuses on the nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations and state of mind. Mindfulness is a staple of many positive psychology programs due to it’s wide-ranging positive health benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to be significantly helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even speeds the healing of physical ailments such as psoriasis. Mindfulness rests on a mountain of research spanning over 30 years demonstrating its effectiveness in such areas.

Mindfulness as resting rocks

Most recently, active participation in an 8-week mindfulness program was shown to make noticeable physical changes in brain areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a new study coming out in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, spearheaded  by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers share the results of their study, the first ever to demonstrate mindfulness-produced improvements over an 8-week period in the brain’s grey matter.

Mindfulness – One of the Best Tools Available for Stress, Anxiety, Anger & Depression

“Although the practice of mindfulness is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that mindfulness also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s lead author.

Prior studies found structural differences between the brains of experienced mindfulness practitioners and individuals with no history of mindfulness, with thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with awareness and emotional intelligence. But those studies were unable to conclude that those differences were truly produced by the practice of mindfulness.

In this study, magnetic resonance images were taken of the brains of sixteen (16) participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included the practice of mindfulness — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations — participants received audio files to use for daily guided mindfulness practice. Participants tracked the amount of time they practiced mindfulness each day. A set of MRI brain images were also taken of a control group of people who did not practice mindfulness over the same 8-week period.

Mindfulness, stress management, anger management tools

Mindfulness group participants spent an average of 27 minutes daily practicing mindfulness exercises. Their answers to a mindfulness questionnaire showed significant improvements in mindfulness and meta-cognition compared with pre-study responses.

Physical Changes In Brain Due to Mindfulness Practice

The analysis of brain images found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, which is associated with new learning and long-term memory, as well as in brain regions associated with self-awareness and empathy.

Decrease in Stress & the Amygdala

Those who reported a decrease in stress also had a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is associated with the presence of anxiety, depression and stress. Interestingly, no such changes were seen in the control group, indicating that the brain changes were not a result of the inevitable passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing mindfulness, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being, reduce stress and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that mindfulness can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., Founder of Guide to Self, Inc.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice in Danville, CA teaching clients the latest tools to manage emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression. Using positive psychology, he helps clients achieve happy, thriving, meaningful lives. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. John hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show on positive psychology, in the San Francisco Bay Area.   He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought.’ He sits on the Advisory Board of PsychCentral.com, one of the top psychology sites on the web. He may be reached via email at John@GuideToSelf.com.  His award-winning blog on positive psychology, Shrunken Mind is at http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com. His newest blog on positive psychology and anger management can be found at http://webangermanagement.com.
Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Journal Reference:
1. Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006

Bullying P.E. Teachers Can Lead To a Sedentary Life

In high school, I had a negative soccer coach. The experience was so demeaning and infuriating, it caused me to turn my back on the sport I loved for 15 years. While I could have played at a Div II college, I chose to do other things. After having my own sons and agreeing to coach their teams, I finally got past the experience. Now I try to share with young athletes, ‘Don’t let a bad coach (or PE teacher) ruin a sport you love. Your passion for the sport is the critical component.’

From ScienceDaily.com…

Negative Phys Ed Teacher Can Cause a Lifetime of Inactivity

ScienceDaily (Jan. 7, 2010) — Humiliation in physical education class as a child can turn people off fitness for good, according to a University of Alberta researcher.

Dejected Kobe Bryant

Dejected Kobe Bryant


Billy Strean, a professor in the U of A’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, says a negative lifelong attitude towards physical activity can be determined by either a good or a bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor. For example, negative experiences may come from a teacher who has low energy, is unfair and/or someone who embarrasses students.

During his research, Strean heard from individuals who opened up about negative experiences with coaches and instructors, some from many years ago.

One study participant wrote, “I am a 51-year-old-woman whose childhood experiences with sports, particularly as handled in school, were so negative that even as I write this my hands are sweating and I feel on the verge of tears. I have never experienced the humiliation nor felt the antipathy toward any other aspect of life as I do toward sports.”

Strean hopes to raise awareness of such experiences so those who instruct children in sport will realize they have the ability to create either a fun and playful experience or an experience of humiliation.

Strean has tips for coaches and teachers, including putting attention on fun, connecting with friends and learning, and, until kids enter their teens, minimizing attention on outcomes.

Strean also found study participants had better experiences from minimally organized games such as street hockey, compared to the more organized activities. He suggests adults try not to over-organize sports and allow the children to explore sporting activities on their own, with minimal rules and no scorekeeping.

Strean’s research was recently published in Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise.

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Alberta, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

University of Alberta (2010, January 7). Negative phys ed teacher can cause a lifetime of inactivity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder of Guide to Self, Inc.

Free online anger management course blog: http://drjohnblog.wordpress.com.

Free PDF of John’s award-winning self-help book available at http://www.GuideToSelf.com

Psychologist Shows Why We ‘Choke’ and How to Avoid It

From ScienceDaily…

ScienceDaily (Sep. 27, 2010) — A star golfer misses a critical putt; a brilliant student fails to ace a test; a savvy salesperson blows a key presentation. Each of these people has suffered the same bump in mental processing: They have just choked under pressure.

Greg Norman putting

It’s tempting to dismiss such failures as “just nerves.” But to University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, they are preventable results of information logjams in the brain. By studying how the brain works when we are doing our best — and when we choke — Beilock has formulated practical ideas about how to overcome performance lapses at critical moments.

“Choking is suboptimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right,” said Beilock, an associate professor in psychology.

Preventing choking in sports Some of the most spectacular and memorable moments of choking occur in sports when the whole world is watching. Many remember golfer Greg Norman’s choke at the 1996 U.S. Masters. Norman had played brilliantly for the first three days of the tournament, taking a huge lead. But on the final day, his performance took a dive, and he ended the Masters five shots out of first place.

Choking in such cases happens when the polished programs executed by the brains of extremely accomplished athletes go awry. In “Choke,” Beilock recounts famous examples of these malfunctions in the context of brain science to tell the story of why people choke and what can be done to alleviate it.

Thinking too much about what you are doing, because you are worried about losing the lead (as in Norman’s case) or worrying about failing in general, can lead to “paralysis by analysis.” In a nutshell, paralysis by analysis occurs when people try to control every aspect of what they are doing in an attempt to ensure success.

Unfortunately, this increased control can backfire, disrupting what was once a fluid, flawless performance.

“My research team and I have found that highly skilled golfers are more likely to hole a simple 3-foot putt when we give them the tools to stop analyzing their shot, to stop thinking,” Beilock said. “Highly practiced putts run better when you don’t try to control every aspect of performance.” Even a simple trick of singing helps prevent portions of the brain that might interfere with performance from taking over, Beilock’s research shows.

Preventing choking on tests and in business The brain also can work to sabotage performance in ways other than paralysis by analysis. For instance, pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities.

Beilock’s work has shown the importance of working memory in helping people perform their best, in academics and in business. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental scratch pad that is temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand, whether that task is doing a math problem at the board or responding to tough, on-the-spot questions from a client. Talented people often have the most working memory, but when worries creep up, the working memory they normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. People lose the brain power necessary to excel.

One example is the phenomenon of “stereotype threat.” This is when otherwise talented people don’t perform up to their abilities because they are worried about confirming popular cultural myths that contend, for instance, that boys and girls naturally perform differently in math or that a person’s race determines his or her test performance.

Beilock’s research is the basis of her new book, “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To,” published Sept. 21 by Simon and Schuster, Free Press.

In Choke, Beilock describes research demonstrating that high-achieving people underperform when they are worried about confirming a stereotype about the racial group or gender to which they belong. These worries deplete the working memory necessary for success. The perceptions take hold early in schooling and can be either reinforced or abolished by powerful role models.

In one study, researchers gave standardized tests to black and white students, both before and after President Obama was elected. Black test takers performed worse than white test takers before the election. Immediately after Obama’s election, however, blacks’ performance improved so much that their scores were nearly equal with whites. When black students can overcome the worries brought on by stereotypes, because they see someone like President Obama who directly counters myths about racial variation in intelligence, their performance improves.

Beilock and her colleagues also have shown that when first-grade girls believe that boys are better than girls at math, they perform more poorly on math tests. One big source of this belief? The girls’ female teachers. It turns out that elementary school teachers are often highly anxious about their own math abilities, and this anxiety is modeled from teacher to student. When the teachers serve as positive role models in math, their male and female students perform equally well.

Meditation and practice can help Even when a student is not a member of a stereotyped group, tests can be challenging for the brightest people, who can clutch if anxiety taps out their mental resources. In that instance, relaxation techniques can help.

In tests in her lab, Beilock and her research team gave people with no meditation experience 10 minutes of meditation training before they took a high-stakes test. Students with meditation preparation scored 87, or B+, versus the 82 or B- score of those without meditation training. This difference in performance occurred despite the fact that all students were of equal ability.

Stress can undermine performance in the world of business, where competition for sales, giving high-stakes presentations or even meeting your boss in the elevator are occasions when choking can squander opportunities.

Practice helps people navigate through these tosses on life’s ocean. But, more importantly, practicing under stress — even a moderate amount — helps a person feel comfortable when they find themselves standing in the line of fire, Beilock said. The experience of having dealt with stress makes those situations seem like old hat. The goal is to close the gap between practice and performance.

A person also can overcome anxiety by thinking about what to say, not what not to say, said Beilock, who added that staying positive is always a good idea.

“Think about the journey, not the outcome,” Beilock advised. “Remind yourself that you have the background to succeed and that you are in control of the situation. This can be the confidence boost you need to ace your pitch or to succeed in other ways when facing life’s challenges.”

University of Chicago (2010, September 27). Psychologist shows why we ‘choke’ and how to avoid it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/09/100925120110.htm

Mindfulness, meditation, stres management techniques, realistic optimism, resiliency, self-compassion, forgiveness, nonattachment are all examples of tools that are learnable and can be used to improve performance in business and in sports. These tools can be used to improve academic performance as well as satisfaction with life.

For a FREE copy of John’s award-winning self-help book that discusses all of these topics in depth, visit www.GuideToSelf.com and click on the yellow book icon on the left side of the page. In exchange for your email address and name, you will be granted instant access to your very own PDF copy of this invaluable book. Check it out now. It won’t take more than 90 seconds of your time.

All the best,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness: A Holistic Approach to Warrior Training

By Jeremy McCarthy on 17. Aug, 2010 in Mind

Be sure to check out Jeremy’s outstanding blog at The Psychology of Wellbeing!!! He hosts an amazing blog.

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is the Army’s new training program that uses positive psychology to teach soldiers mental resilience strategies to maintain their psychological wellbeing while confronting the challenges of being separated from families, regularly facing conflict, and losing friends and colleagues.

The program, which calls for an army of “balanced, healthy, self-confident soldiers” and “improved soldier fitness and readiness,” sounds like a good plan to take care of our warriors’ mental health and to take a more holistic approach to toughening them up.  But recently, the program has come under some criticism, primarily for its publicly funded price tag ($117 million as reported in the New York Times) and for ethical questions about whether or not soldiers even should be trained to be desensitized to traumatic events.  Psychologist Bruce Levine recently published an article entitled, “How Psychologists Profit from Unending U.S. Wars,” (published elsewhere as “American Soldiers Brainwashed with ‘Positive Thinking’”,) condemning the program and pointing the finger at psychologists who are pocketing their fair share of the money for training 40,000 drill sergeants (who in turn will train 1.1 million U.S. soldiers.)

Some of Levine’s criticisms I agree with: “Psychologists should loudly warn politicians, military brass, and the nation that if soldiers and veterans discover that they have been deceived about the meaningfulness and necessity of their mission, it is only human for them to become more prone to emotional turmoil, which can lead to destructive behaviors for themselves and others.”  In general, I am a believer that there is usually a peaceful resolution to most conflict and that the U.S. policies tend to emphasize war, rather than negotiation, cooperation and collaboration to resolve issues.  So I don’t like the idea of any program designed to make war easier.

I also am not against criticizing the cost of the program, since I think most of the money we spend on our military efforts could probably be put to better use.  But I question whether the blame should be levied against the psychologists rather than the Army itself.  Our whole society is based on the capitalist ideals of creating services that people need and want in exchange for money.  While we understand that people sell computers and cars for profit, we tend to label as greedy anyone who sells loftier services in the domains of psychological or spiritual wellbeing.  I say, “hate the game, not the players.”

I have heard directly from Martin Seligman, the brains behind the program (and behind positive psychology for that matter) and Karen Reivich, the author of The Resilience Factor and one of the lead trainers for the Army workshops, and their intentions are in the right place.  This program is based on the idea that reactions to traumatic events are normally distributed. This means that after experiencing a major traumatic event, a small percentage of people will experience psychological problems such as depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD,) most people will adapt and bounce back, and another percentage of people will actually learn and grow from the experience (“Post Traumatic Growth”—see Washington Post article, “From Wounds, Inner Strength”.)  To me, a program designed to decrease PTSD and increase Post Traumatic Growth in our warriors seems like a worthwhile endeavor.  Especially when you consider the lasting impact of PTSD on a community (see recent study, “’Path of mental illness’ follows path of war, twenty years after conflict ends.”)

In Levine’s critique of the program he asks, “How much sense does it make to teach soldiers who are trying to stay alive in a war zone to put a positive spin on everything?”  Here, Levine makes the same mistake as other critics of positive psychology in that he confounds positive psychology with positive thinking—not the same things.  Does it make sense to teach soldiers to be happy at all times at all costs?  Absolutely not.  But how much sense does it make to teach soldiers how to let go of emotional issues and traps that might be distracting them from the tasks at hand?  Quite a lot actually, according to Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum who heads up the program for the Army.  In a recent interview, she described the difference between a realistic response and a catastrophic response to losing a friend in battle: “Realistically, we expect that people will grieve, that they will feel anger, they will probably feel bitterness and recurring grief . . . but you can’t just stay there and replay that over and over.”  Teaching soldiers techniques for managing the stress and anxiety of warfare may even be saving their lives.  One recent study showed that soldiers’ reactions to stress in dangerous combat actually cause them “to dissociate from threats [in battle] instead of becoming more vigilant.”

Furthermore, the program is not just about helping soldiers deal with the severe emotional traumas they encounter on the battle field.  It helps them to deal with the emotional issues surrounding their relationships, not only with their fellow soldiers, but with their families back home (some parts of the program are even being offered to family members.)  Thanks to cellphones and the internet, soldiers are more connected than ever before to the people back home.  And while I’m sure the soldiers appreciate this connectivity, it makes it harder than ever to remain detached and focused on their difficult job overseas.  Gone are the days of soldiers carrying around a single photograph of their spouse or child, as the only reminder of their life back home.  Today, they are more in touch than ever before, and there are emotional costs associated with that.

At the end of the day General Cornum is a manager of people (in one of the largest organizations in the world) and she is hoping that positive psychology training will improve performance in her workforce.  Other businesses (see my articles on Zappos here and here) are doing the same.  Dan Bowling, former head of HR for Coca Cola and a MAPP colleague of mine, is looking at how similar kinds of training could impact lawyers (another workforce prone to emotional issues).  And I have been working on new training programs applying positive psychology to the hospitality industry (appropriate since relationships and emotional connections are so important in our business.)

On a recent phone call that Martin Seligman had with the MAPP Alumni, I asked him if there were lessons being learned from the Army training that could be applied in other organizations.  “This is the second largest corporation in the world,” he said.  (The first is Walmart.)  “And so a program that involves training for the entire U.S. Army in which its effects on performance are being evaluated should be highly relevant to large corporations.”  When so many organizations today are still not thinking about the holistic welfare of their workforce, I commend the Army for leading us into this new frontier.

Don’t forget to check out Jeremy’s blog at The Psychology of Wellbeing. Check it out NOW! It’s too good to pass up! Bookmark it. Tell your friends! 🙂 Thanks.


References and recommended reading:

Cornum, R. & Copeland, P. (1993).  She Went to War: The Rhonda Cornum Story.  Presidio Press.

Levine, B. E. (2007).  Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy.  Chelsea Green Publishing.

Reivich, K. & Shatte, A. (2003).  The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles.  Broadway Books.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006).  Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage.