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Just a few more reasons not to get angry after a bad shot

The problems that getting and staying angry during a competition can cause, and how to manage it.

This article was first published in the USA Shooting magazine and is being reprinted with USA Shooting's approval. It was prepared by Dr Cathy Arnot, physiotherapist for the United States Olympic Committee and member of the ISSF Medical Committee.


Presumably all athletes have elevated stress during a competition. This is unavoidable and may help sharpen mental acuity at low levels. However, emotional swings can have deleterious effects on performance. It must be tempting to get angry after making a bad shot, especially when you were confident of a good outcome. There are several problems with getting angry and staying angry during your competition.


1. Breathing disturbances


When experiencing a heightened emotional state, most people do not fully exhale. This can lead to a mild state of hyperventilation. 


2. Changes in blood gases


If you maintain this breathing pattern, it can result in hypocapnia — a deciency of carbon dioxide. This causes cerebral vasoconstriction and hypoxia. What you will experience is transient dizziness, visual disturbances and increased levels of anxiety. 


3. Constant sympathetic state


Your sympathetic nervous system is designed to protect you during emergency situations. When you get stressed, this system is activated. Your body then produces two stress hormones: adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones increase anxiety levels, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and your resting muscle tone. Another effect of cortisol is that it reduces your pain threshold. In other words, any ache or pain that you could usually ignore will feel worse under these conditions. 


4. Changes to muscles


Certain muscles are particularly affected by the sympathetic response. The muscles on the front of your neck, the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid, become hyperactive because they are helping you inhale. The result is that the front of your neck will feel tight and you will have decreased range of motion. The upper trapezius and levator scapula will also contract. These are the muscles along the top of your shoulder that connect to your neck. When these muscles contract, it can change your usual shooting position and cause you to misjudge a shot. 


Bottom line


Maintaining an elevated emotional state after a bad shot can lead to visual disturbances, decreased steadiness, increased muscle tone, and decreased range of motion and greater levels of perceived pain. Over time, this can lead to shoulder pain, neck pain and chronic headaches. 


Ways to manage


Maybe the most important step is to have a mental strategy for dealing with a bad shot. Talk to your coach and sport psychologist prior to competition so that you can practice these strategies. One physical strategy that is easy to employ is to change your breathing. Inhale through your nose and then forcefully exhale through your mouth. This stops the cascade of physiological events that lead to the sympathetic state. Another technique is to relax your upper traps by forcefully depressing your shoulders for 5 seconds and then 


So not only is it important to keep your cool while shooting for your mental health, it’s important to help you perform at your best physically as well.

Cathy Arnot, USOC Physiotherapist and Member of the ISSF Medical Committee