Knowledge

How a game of tennis highlighted the power of emotions

As I was glued to my tv screen on Monday night, I alongside many others, watched Emma Raducanu’s Wimbledon match against Ajla Tomljanovic which unfortunately ended in her retiring in the second set due to her experiencing breathing difficulties and dizziness.  As the BBC reported, Emma thinks that it was an accumulation of the excitement and the buzz of that last week and that the whole experience simply caught up with her.

We cannot speculate on exactly what caused Emma’s difficulties but from what she describes and what we saw, emotions were playing a big part.

If we look at neuroscience, the study of biological mechanisms of the brain, we learn that whenever an event occurs, the first thing that responds is our emotional brain (the amygdala).  It is only once our emotional brain has reacted that our thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex) then engages. Our emotional brain reacts unconsciously, it is there to send quick fight or flight signals based on what we are experiencing.  If perceived negative emotions are released, our thinking can become narrowed, and our interpretation of events becomes limited.  In extreme situations, the emotional brain takes over any rational thinking and we simply act according to what we feel. This is especially true if we are experiencing something for the first time, when we face the unknown.

In my opinion and from her description of events, Emma felt such a high level of emotions all at once during that match on centre court (and the build up to it) that her emotions manifested themselves in a true physical response-struggling to breathe and feeling dizzy. Her emotional brain interpreted the situation as dangerous and sent strong flight signals to her thinking brain and those signals were so strong that they impacted on her ability to continue.

We have probably all experienced at some point a similar reaction to an event. As I watched Emma during that match, I certainly could empathise and recall similar experiences.  Indeed, some of us may have gone through something like that and steered well clear of anything similar again to avoid dealing with those emotions again.  That is one way to deal with such an experience but in Emma’s case, if she wants to continue to play tennis then the solution lies elsewhere. This experience should be seen as very powerful learning.   And the next steps she takes with her team will determine her success.  Emotional management will play a crucial part of her journey and career.  Recognising the specific triggers that led her to feel the way she did on Monday, trying to understand how these emotions were being manifested and identifying strategies to still feel those emotions but respond differently with the thinking brain will all form important parts of her development. Emma states “I can’t wait to see what’s next on my journey!”, this tells me that she is headed to the next stage with positivity and purpose. It may well be that going through this early in her career and working carefully on emotional management with such a powerful learning experience will give her a huge advantage in the future. I certainly think we will see her on our screens again and that when we do it may well be at that final in Wimbledon!

Recognising the role emotions play in everyday situations and being able to understand them, interpret them and use them all form part of emotional intelligence.  Questline is a Genos certified practitioner of emotional intelligence assessment and can help individuals develop this essential skill (whether you are a professional tennis player or not)!

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