What to Do with Anger

There are all kinds of “anger triggers” as a coach: player performance, officiating miscues, difficult parents or community members. When we get angry, we often say things and do things that are unhealthy, unhelpful, and hurt others. Yet, we may be tempted to rationalize our anger and its destructive consequences, seeing it as just a part of “normal” coaching or blaming it on the people or circumstances that triggered our anger.

Jesus confronts our anger and its destructive consequences in Matthew 5:21-22 – You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder.  If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!  If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

Strong words from Jesus! So how can we avoid the dangers of anger? While the Bible says anger is the right response to injustice, we need to honestly confess that most of our anger is about something other than actual injustice. In his book The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ, James Bryan Smith asserts that two things are usually at the root of our anger: unmet expectations and fear.  For example, when players don’t do what we tell them to do, our expectation of being in control is unmet.  We then fear that if we’re not in control, things will not go well. Or we have an expectation that “life (and referees) must always be fair and just.” When this doesn’t happen and the result is a loss, we fear that people will think we’re not competent or will not approve of us.

How do we counteract this? Smith says that we must replace the false narratives of our expectations and fears with what Jesus says is true.  For example, rather than thinking, “I must be in control,” we choose to trust that Jesus is in control – no matter what happens (Col. 1:15-17). Rather than expecting life to always be fair and fearing how people view us when things don’t turn out as we think they should, we choose to trust that Jesus knows all, we are secure in him, and he will one day set all things right (Rev. 21:3-7).

Regarding false narratives vs. the true narrative of Jesus, Smith writes: Outside the kingdom of God we are on our own. We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well-being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

As a coach, you’ll face situations that tempt you to respond with anger. In those moments, remind yourself that what Jesus says is true. While change takes time, including in this area of dealing with anger, trust Jesus and his gracious work in your life.