Can abuse from online trolls improve a person’s skill and performance? One psychologist certainly thinks so – although he admits using it as a tool for motivation is not really an ideal scenario.
Professor Andy Lane believes British tennis player Heather Watson’s novel method of “punishment” after she was knocked out of Wimbledon could improve her future performance.
He said he believed the world number 55 would have been difficult to console after her loss in the first round and took to reading abuse on Twitter to maintain her negative emotions.
The professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton explained the tactic is “not ideal” but added that, like the online abuse, her emotions would die down in time.
“Intense emotions sometimes follow similar patterns and it’s okay to feel down after a loss. It tells you that it was important, ” he said.
“The lesson learned for next time is to avoid the unpleasant emotion by playing better, and that can be a good thing performance-wise.”
But Lane said that as a psychologist he would encourage other ways to regulate unpleasant emotions following a defeat.
“People have different domains of their life – a tennis player domain, a friend domain, and a partner domain – and investing time in a different domain helps,” he said.
“Athletes often say that after having children it puts their performance in sport in perspective.
“Immediately after a loss amid intense emotions it’s tough to think about anything else, but with some encouragement and planned strategies it’s possible.”
He said that people sometimes say negative things to themselves as motivation and pointed out that tennis players often hit themselves on the head with rackets, chastise themselves or shout “come on” during a match.
“This message says, ‘this is not good enough, you can do better’ and the wave of unpleasant emotion that they know will intensify if they lose is a warning signal to do something different,” said Lane.
But he said the interaction on social media was “intriguing” as it is new.
“People don’t go and find an abusive crowd or seek a telling off in public. But when it’s face-to-face, the person giving the abuse can see the person receiving it.
“On Twitter, it’s much safer for the abuser as they show little empathy for the feelings of the person.
“So, Heather, feeling pretty negative and emotionally down after losing and importantly, not feeling she gave it her best shot, was likely to have a commentary running through her mind that was not pleasant.”
The British number two has previously spoken of receiving death threats after losing matches and said online abuse had become a regular occurrence.
On Twitter trolls, the psychologist said: “Society would be a much better place if we all did empathy training and they should think through how the other person might feel on reading their message.
“Top athletes are fully exposed, poor performance is so publicly seen and sometimes we have off days.”