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The Emotions of Sports: An athlete’s flip of the switch

Players have to be able to separate their aggressive on-field personas from the rest of their lives

Posted: August 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hart High graduate and UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore (42) awaits a snap in a game against Kansas State last season. Larimore has the ability to channel his anger and aggression into his play, which is an important part of being a successful athlete.

Athletes are often painted as bullheaded, aggressive individuals.

That’s probably because most people only see them while they’re playing sports.

A lot of athletes are friendly, respectful people off the field. But they’d better not be that way on it.

“Playing with emotion and with an edge definitely makes you a better player,” says Hart High graduate and UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore.

The fact is anger can be a very good thing for athletes as long as they channel it correctly.

“I think it’s just the athletic personality,” says Ryan Wolfe, a former Hart High football and basketball player and the all-time leading receiver at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Sport has always been a way for me to vent. I’ve never really been that angry or outgoing of a person in my normal life. That was my outlet.”

Football is one of the most overt examples of an outlet, because there’s so much physical contact involved.

Other sports can be outlets, too, whether it’s ripping through a baseball or softball swing, or pushing yourself to run faster in a race, or outhustling opponents on the basketball court.

Recent Canyon High graduate Adriana Dent knows all about that. She darted and drove and pestered her way to 2011 All-Santa Clarita Valley and Foothill League Player of the Year honors.

Her tenacity on the court was emblematic of Canyon’s team, which won the first state championship tournament game in program history this past season.

And you’d better believe that a lot of her fire during games comes from opponents underestimating Dent, who goes by the nickname “Shorty.”

“I may not be the tallest person, the biggest person,” says the 5-foot-8-inch Dent, “but I can hustle, I can rebound and I’ll get in there. I’ll just do what I can. When the ball goes up, it’s game time. You just flip the switch.”

Perceived slights can be a good way for athletes to channel their anger when they step on the field. Another good reason to do so can be the nature of the sport itself.

“For football in particular, playing with anger comes into it a lot because it’s a risky sport,” Larimore says. “Every time you go out there, you know there’s a possibility you can hurt somebody or get hurt. I think that’s why you see guys screaming or yelling or getting fired up.”

Because athletes are constantly practicing or playing games, it can be difficult for some to separate their on-field personalities with their off-field personalities.

Larimore, Wolfe and Dent haven’t had that problem, but they acknowledge it exists.

“I think some guys can struggle with that off the field,” Larimore says. “The environment makes them into an aggressive person.”

That’s why it’s important to be able to flip the switch during athletic competition — but it can also come in handy off the field, too.

Wolfe suffered an ACL injury the summer before his junior high school football season in 2003. Instead of missing the entire year, he underwent surgery, attacked his rehabilitation and made it back in time for the playoffs.

Hart went on to win a CIF title that season. Wolfe didn’t want to miss out on being a part of the team, so he used his anger over the injury to recover faster than most would.

“That was my release,” Wolfe says. “I would go to physical therapy twice a day. If I wasn’t there, I was trying to do everything on my own to get back on the field. If I’m not going to be at practice every day, I’m going to do what I can in rehab.”

So Wolfe flipped his switch over and over again to heal from his injury.

During the season itself, however, flipping the switch over and over again can become a chore. Especially for a basketball player like Dent, whose seasons include almost 30 games.

“It’s tough, because you’re working your way up to that game on Tuesday,” Dent says. “After that, you have a couple days to work your way up to the next game. It’s like you’re a transformer. You’ve got to transform into the next game. You’ve got to mentally and physically prepare yourself.”

Learning how to flip the switch is vital for athletes’ success. It can make the difference between a great performance or a subpar performance, a prolonged career or a brief career.

Once the game or season ends, athletes can return to their normal selves. It’s flipping the switch in the first place, Larimore says, that’s the hardest thing.

“You’ve got to have that state of mind and that confidence in yourself to let it go and let it rip,” he says.


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