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Emotional discipline wins games, part 2

Luka Dončić and the Mavericks have had issues with emotional discipline this season. But being able to control your response to a situation you see as unfair may actually leave you with a better result

Charlotte Hornets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

You have the power to choose how you feel. It’s a powerful sentence, but it’s true. Feelings can overtake us. They shape our moods, influence our thoughts and the decisions we make.

If you understand how to control your emotions, you can use them constructively. That’s what’s called emotional discipline.

Last fall, I wrote about how emotional discipline wins games, using Slovenia and Eurobasket 2022 as examples. Ejections by players and coaches negatively affected the outcomes of many games, leading to upsets and losses.

This NBA season, Luka Dončić has carried his emotions on his sleeve during most games. And it has seemed like Luka and the people around him has failed to recognize that controlling your emotions will win games, and being in control will help Luka reach the next level as a player, as well.

The reason this is a bigger deal than it may seem is because it psychologically affects everyone around you when you get out of control. It spreads like rings in the water and frustration and negativity take over.

But you can’t change what you can’t control - in this instance the referees’ behavior - and the sooner you learn that on and off the court, the better the results are going to be. But there are, however, strategies to help you get better outcomes, than complaining.

But Luka gets the worst whistle in the league, what is he supposed to do?

This is what people ask me all the time, and the answer is simple: Rise above. Don’t let the outside noise affect your behavior.

If Luka starts praising the referees when they do good stuff he agrees with instead of screaming at them 70 percent of the time and ignoring them or rolling his eyes at them the rest of the time, behavior will change. It’s called nudging, and it works.

When pilots are training, they learn pretty fast that if you tell them “don’t hit the obstacle” - they’ll hit the obstacle. Because that’s what they’re focusing on - the obstacle. If your focus is on the obstacle, all you will see is obstacles. It’s your choice how you choose to perceive an obstacle in a given situation. It’s literally perception,

I learned that pretty fast as a parent too. If I tell my kids they can’t climb on the table - guess what they’re going to do? I’ve put the idea in their minds. Instead I try to say what they CAN do - like: do you want cucumbers or tomatoes sitting on your chair?

It doesn’t always work, but the strategy is good enough that I’ve started using it in other parts of my life too. If I’d like my coworker to stop doing something, I try to ask them what I want them to do instead of telling them what they’re doing wrong. That’s nudging, and yes, it works.

Back to emotional discipline and how to get there. There are strategies you can use to regain control of your feelings, despite triggers being present. For Luka Dončić, a trigger could be what he perceives as bad refereeing.

He most likely doesn’t realize that his complaints and lack of control over extended periods of time are hurting himself and his team even more (otherwise, I would assume that he would have changed his behavior at this point). It’s not hurting the refs or changing their behavior and it’s not hurting the opponent. Some might even say that it could be helping them. What’s more, it’s making the experience of watching the Mavericks worse.

The strategies to deal with this and change your mindset take work, like everything in life, but in the end you end up in a much better place. Here are some of them:


How can you think of the situation differently? Maybe holding on to the bigger perspective is an idea. All players have to deal with bad calls, what’s this minor issue in the bigger picture of creating your legacy and getting that ring?

How can experience with bad refereeing help you deal better next time? The result is always the same - complaining doesn’t lead to positive outcomes. Could praising them for good calls help? It’s worth a try.

Stay present

When I’ve watched Luka play this season, I’ve noticed that as opposed to when he was younger, he doesn’t seem to be in the moment as much anymore. Find the joy of basketball again and focus on being present in the moment instead of the previous play.


Control yourself instead of being controlled. This is an extenuation of the main point of the whole column. If you’re in control, you control the result much more. Don’t let outside forces get in your way. Take charge.

This whole thing, Luka struggling with emotional discipline, may just be what winners look like when they’re losing. But that doesn’t excuse it. Luka Dončić knows it and has said it before, he needs to do better. Whether he’s willing and able to put the work in right now is uncertain. But whether it’s necessary for him in order to take the next step is not.

Besides being a Writer and Editor, Mette L. Robertson has a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a focus on Human Relations. Special focus: group dynamics. Before that she played basketball for 12 years in Denmark, leaving the sport after playing on a Division 1 team and on youth national teams.

Find last week’s Maverick Feelings here.