Emotions in Sports – Bjorn Borg as an Outlier?

I ate out tonight and a soccer recap show was on the big screen.  The celebrations and the displays of anger over poor plays were quite volatile to the point of being a bit comical.  I know basketball far better than soccer, but again it is easy to think of players celebrating big dunks, making three goggles, and exploding after game-winning plays.

While consuming my burrito, I wondered how Bjorn Borg’s lack of reaction compared to these emotional displays.  Of course, basketball and soccer are team sports so my comparison is likely off base.  Team sports require a lot of communication so a laconic approach is less likely.  Since Jimmy Connors 1991 US Open semifinal run, tennis has really marketed the fist pump.

Reacting very little to winning and losing points might be a good strategy

Yet, Borg’s approach of not reacting to winning points or losing points might be an overlooked method for singles players to consider.  From the 6:28 mark of Borg’s famous 1980 4th set tiebreak loss to John McEnroe to the end, Borg wins and loses a number of big points.  Staving off set points and losing match points normally elicits emotional responses from tennis players at any level.  However, Borg gives few outward signs of his feelings despite being on the cusp of winning the biggest event in tennis.

Would some players benefit from suppressing these emotions or is this just a sui generis quality on the part of Borg that no one could realistically emulate?

The advantages of trying to copy Borg:

  1. Reactions can burn needed energy
  2. Reactions give an opponent a lot of information (particularly negative vocalizations and body language)
  3. Not reacting may unnerve an opponent
  4. Not reacting may help a player approach break points, set points, and match points in a calm manner.
  5. Ridiculous displays after hitting a good shot can light a fire under an opponent

The disadvantage may be that managing one’s emotions in a manner akin to Borg’s is pretty hard.  If containing reactions takes more effort than playing tennis, what is the point?  I don’t play a ton of singles these days, but when I play singles I will attempt to emulate Borg and see if tennis has overlooked the benefits of a placid demeanor.  It seems to me that at least some players would benefit from a calmer on-court persona.

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