David Nalbandian has past form for on court incidents, but this latest episode at Queens makes him now more famous than at any time in his career. As usual anger gets the rap. We only seem to discuss anger when it is manifest in BAD behaviour, typically McEnroe, Agassi, Serena Williams, Barton, Rooney and others.
There is more to the story however. In the state of anger we are pumping hormones that give us the ability to perform at our very peak, to some degree we are in survival mode. Think of this as a nuclear power plant, there is a very delicate balance. When properly cooled and regulated we benefit from a huge amount of energy to support our lives and our activities. When regulation breaks down the energy starts to fly out of control and disasters happen.
Sport is no different and many hours are put into teaching top athletes to manage this energy. Yet sometimes it overflows. Typically this is when a sportsperson is under high pressure and their level of anger/arousal goes over the limit. Going over the top can reduce the performance of an athlete as a system when they become overloaded. A system designed to function best at 80% is being asked to run at 100%. This is unsustainable.
Some athletes struggle more than others to manage themselves as a system and the result is seen in patterns of behaviour throughout their career. When they are in control they are sublime, when not, anything can happen. It is no surprise to find that Nalbandian was thrown out of the Vina del Mar tournament in Chile 10 years ago for verbally abusing a linesman.
Conversely, athletes such as Tiger Woods regulate themselves so tightly that no hint of emotion is detected until they implode emotionally and physically. They overload due to the pressure of events, internally lose their structure and give way. Once this has happened it is more difficult to regain their former composure and state of balance.
Behaviour extremes are the result of not being able to regulate oneself effectively. They are often the symptom of underlying issues for the individual concerned. Both the individual issues and the behaviours associated with them can be addressed with professional help.