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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Competing angry

The World Swimming Championships are taking place in Budapest right now. There seem to be two basic frames of mind people have when competing: angry or worried. (This obviously applies to other sports, and activities, as well.)

The two best examples of those modes in swimming may be Clark Smith (worried) and Michael Phelps (angry).

Clark Smith has two supportive parents (both of whom were world class swimmers), and seems like a nice guy. So he worries about disappointing everyone, from his parents to his coaches to his teammates.

As a result, his nerves sometimes get the better of him, and he chokes. He didn't do well in Budapest, failing to make the finals of both the 400 and 800 freestyles, in both cases going slower than he had at US Trials four weeks before.

Phelps came from a broken home, had a difficult relationship with his father, and appears to have a somewhat domineering mother. He has ADHD, was bullied as a kid, and is apparently a (reformed) alcoholic.

Phelps was known for feeding off of other peoples' disparagement. If anyone said something negative about him, or doubted him in any way, he would tape the newspaper clipping inside his locker.

Phelps swam angry. It was obvious because even after some of his victories, he still looked and acted angry. Watch his behavior from 1:26 to 1:43 of this video, when he beats Michael Cavic to set a world record in the 100 meter fly. His anger is what made him one of the best competitors (on top of being the most talented swimmer) ever.

Anger appears to be a better fuel for competitors than fear. It puts your psyche in the right place.

Marvin Hagler (who legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler when promoters refused to bill him by that name) was known as a fighter who would work himself up into such a state of fury.   (Hagler is shown below defeating Englishman Tony Sibson.)

Before the their fight in 1983, Hagler was asked about Sibson. He said, "I don't like that guy. He's been sayin' bad things about me. He's been running his mouth, and I'm going to shut it for him."

When informed of this, Sibson was mystified. He said, "I don't know where he got that from. All I've said about him publicly is that he's one of the four greatest middleweight champions of all time and that it's an honor to get in the ring with him."

Hagler wasn't a brain truster, but he knew how to get himself psyched up for a fight, and that was partly why he was such a great boxer.

Roberto Duran, another boxing legend, was also famous for hating all of his opponents.

But the point of this post is that even in the non-combat sports, and maybe even in other activities, it's better to compete furious than compete worried.

If I were Clark Smith's coach, I'd advise him, before his races, to think of someone he really hates, and who hates him back. (We all have at least one person like that in our lives.) I'd say, think of how he'd like to see you fail. Think of how much pleasure that would give him. Think of that before your race, and while you're waiting behind the blocks. And think of how unhappy he'll be if he sees you win.

When I was young, I definitely fell into the worrier (as opposed to warrior) camp. And, I sometimes choked. There are a lot of things I wish I could have explained to the young me; this is one of them.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, thought provoking.

- birdie

Steven said...

Angry is better than worried for a competitor but is there another state of mind that is even better than both? Usain Bolt seems worry free but he doesn't seem angry. I've heard boxers say that anger can make you reckless and they want to get their opponent angry so he makes mistakes. I don't know the answer but I'm just saying.

John Craig said...

Thank you Birdie.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That's a good point. I thought of Usain Bolt when I was writing this and realized he fell into neither category. And there do seem to be MMA competitors who act gentlemanly both immediately prior to and right after their bouts; anger doesn't seem to inform their mindset, either, and many of them do well. (Think of Fedor Emelienenko, who seems to have turned "dispassionate" into a high art, at least before and after his bouts.)

So, yes, you're right. But the point of this post is that anger is better than worry. And it's probably easier to offset worry with anger than it is to simply stop worrying and be dispassionate.

europeasant said...

Maybe anger gets the adrenaline flowing. Some weightlifters get real worked up with anger before each lift and that seemed to work. That and large amounts of Winstrol or Dianabol would do the trick.

There were other weightlifters who remained calm and concentrated intensely. Of course it also helps to choose your parents wisely.

John Craig said...

Europeasant --
Olympic-style lifters do often seem to get psyched up in an almost angry sort of way. It was always my vague impression they were almost angry at the weight itself, though who knows what was going through their minds. And yeah, a little 'roid rage could definitely add to that state of mind.

Steven said...

This is all i've got from my own experience: I remember a time when I was playing soccer with guys I didn't know and was kind of going easy and then I got angry and it made me act in a more confident, decisive sort of way. You can become more dominant when you're angry, less fucks are given.

I've just been watching all the interviews with Jodi Ann Arias who murdered her ex-boyfriend, from when she was first arrested and denying any involvement to after the trial when she was claiming self-defence. You know the case? It is another great sociopathy case study.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, not giving a hoot can be tremendously liberating.

I haven't followed the Arias case closely, but I'm familiar enough with it to see that she's a sociopath. You're right, good case study.

Anonymous said...

Anger causes people to be more optimistic. It feeds determination, and minimises the chances that someone will ruminate over possible failure. It has physiological effects: as well as activating the HPA axis, it raises the heartbeat and blood pressure, which prepares the muscles for violent action. Contrast this with fear, which can in extreme cases lead to paralysis.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I know that paralysis feeling well.

I'm surprised that anger causes people to be more optimistic, I hadn't heard that before, and to tell the truth, it doesn't really ring a bell with me. I've never noticed the correlation, anyway. The other stuff, I have noticed.

Anonymous said...

It depends, anger is one of those damned words with 1000000000x ways of interpreting it, some are rightfully felt, some are a waste of emotional energy.

It can be a useful catalyst (productive anger, not like Hillary's cackling gleeful rages) when nothing else can fuel a mind, but many special forces train their soldiers to not use anger as a fuel when fighting, and the ancient Greeks played relaxing music before battle and emphasized absolute control over actions.

An unfettered disciplined mind with strong focus. Pure willpower and a clear head, all the neurons organized with an almost Germanic efficiency, that kind of mindset, commitment for actions sake without attachment to the fruits of them or having empty thoughts or images distracting you, a meditative determined state, like what the first few chapters of the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu version of the Bible) say about your mindset when killing when it has to be done like in a war against evildoers.
Scene from HBO Rome, you can see that pure discipline, the determined faces in their formation up against a bunch of screaming Gauls. The guy who did break formation later gets flogged in the next part of the episode.

Productive anger is preferable to no motivation, but if you have enough will, you don't need to use it if you don't have or want to.


John Craig said...

Ga --
What I saw in that video, and what you're describing, is a sort of cold anger, which is the kind of anger you want. Every now and then you'll hear a coach or commentator refer to a certain athlete who plays with "controlled fury," which I think is the desired state of mind.

And yes, not having distracting thoughts is definitely preferable.

As far as Hillary goes, her cackling fury was not attractive, her inappropriate smiles and laughter were weird, and her political positions sort of crazy, but I think her anger actually did put her in the right frame of mind for debates. Even Trump, when asked to say something nice about his opponent, said, "Hillary is a fighter."

Anyway, there are different types of anger, and they can be used more or less efficiently, but the point of this post was mainly that anger is preferable to fear when competing in athletics.

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily optimistic generally, just optimistic about achieving a goal. Angry people don't stop to think of the possible negative consequences of their actions - they just act in determination to change the situation that has angered them, such as Phelps owning all the people who doubted him. Acting doesn't always lead to success, but it does so a hundredfold more than does abstaining out of fear. Seneca described anger as "temporary madness": think of how many brash, disastrous decisions that have happened because of it. It's just in sporting and life-or-death scenarios that it can be a blessing; our species couldn't have survived without it.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Didn't Shakespeare describe love the same way, as a temporary madness? (Not those exact words.) There have certainly been a lot of brash, disastrous decisions that have been made under its influence too.

And our species wouldn't have survived without *it* either.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Shakespeare buff but, yes, I think he did. It makes sense: sociopaths manipulate people into loving them through 'love bombing' because they know that an in-love person no longer sees things objectively and has really put their guard down. Sociopaths are forever looking at the lonely hearts adverts to find their next victims: even the desire for love leaves people vulnerable. A tip that I read on the Love Fraud website is that new partners should always be introduced to friends and family as their lack of love towards the person means they can sniff out any phoniness. Many victims said their families could sense something insincere about the sociopath, but the victim ignored their warnings. So, yes, love causes a type of temporary madness - and it's useful to sociopaths.

I found this 5 minute video interesting, on how our brains deceive us when we're in love. It explains that chemical changes happen that resemble someone with OCD, which could explain that unhealthy (and yet wonderful, for someone currently experiencing it?) obsessiveness that the newly in-love can have:

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
That makes perfect sense, that sociopaths would exploit the vulnerable like that, and wanting to be in love certainly puts a woman in a heightened state of vulnerability. That's a good suggestion about introducing a new love to family and friends, and then listening to their reactions.

Watched the video. Sounds like it was made a long time ago, but they seem to have up to date info regarding the brain. Interesting that OCD is similar to love, chemically. Makes one wonder if OCD isn't partly a function of thwarted, or repressed, love. Almost enough to make one believe in Freud.