Do Emotions Affect Critical Thinking?
By Guest Blogger Sayaka Matsumoto
*Sayaka is a regular contributor to David Matsumoto’s blog. A 2008 Olympian in the sport of judo, Sayaka shares her thoughts regarding emotion regulation in sports.
Emotions are a part of everyday life; it doesn’t matter who you are or your profession. It’s how you control and regulate these emotions that determine your success in any given situation.
I know first-hand that being an Olympic Athlete is an extremely emotional experience. I’ve faced a lot of ups and downs during my competitive career and truly understand “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.
Some emotions and feelings are impossible to describe in words: how can you explain to someone the feeling of losing a crucial match in the last 10 seconds or walking into the Bird’s Nest for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in front of 90,000 people all cheering for you?
As a result of my experiences, I have come to a profound conclusion: the most striking characteristic of being an elite athlete for me is that it is as much an emotional experience as it is a physical one. It is by controlling their emotions that athletes are capable of maintaining high levels of critical thinking and focus, regardless of what sport they are in.
Research has suggested that when we are very emotional, our critical thinking abilities decrease dramatically. The ability to think critically is crucial to athletes in particular, who must stay incredibly focused during competition.
If athletes do not control their emotions, there are serious consequences. The more emotional they get, their ability to think critically decreases and they lose focus.
An example of this loss of focus and control occurred at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy when snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis made the crucial mistake of celebrating her win before the race was over. Jacobellis held a significant lead over Tanja Frieden of Switzerland for the whole run, until she performed a celebratory trick on the second to the last jump and fell. While Jacobellis struggled to get up, Frieden passed her, winning the gold medal, becoming Olympic Champion.
In a press conference after the event, Jacobellis admits she lost focus. She has been quoted in the Washington Post saying “I was having fun. Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens.”
Although being a silver medalist at the Olympics is an incredible feat, her momentary lapse of emotional control will surely haunt her forever.
Jacobellis’s experience illustrates the fundamental necessity for athletes to control and regulate their emotions during competition.
How you control those emotions on the playing field is crucial to staying focused and to achieve the desired outcome of competitive success.