Doing sports is healthy and highly rewarding. It’s also a fantastic learning experience because it teaches children consistency, discipline, and teamwork.
However, there’s a downside to it too ‒ student-athletes are often under tremendous pressure to perform. While some anxiety is normal and may push them to excel, it can become so intense that it affects both their results and their well-being. This is where parents and coaches come in.
If you’re dealing with a stressed student-athlete, there are ways to help them calm down and get in the right frame of mind.
Here’s how to guide them through the process of overcoming sports performance anxiety. They’ll be happier and their results will also reflect their mindset.
1. Observe the child closely
The first thing you need to do is recognize when the child’s anxiety is rising. Their coach may notice that the child is out of focus and making more mistakes than usual.
Or, the child could get increasingly frustrated during practices. For example, they may take out their anger on their equipment or lash out at teammates.
As for parents, the first signs they will likely notice are irritability, moodiness, and lack of concentration. They may be surprised by the child’s seeming loss of interest in their sport and their reluctance to go to practice.
There may even be the talk of quitting altogether. It’s important to spot this type of behavior early, identify the cause, and help the student-athlete overcome it.
2. Recognize the triggers
It’s typical for athletes to feel more anxious if they have a big match or competition coming up. The need to up their game in the limited amount of time leading up to the event usually creates additional pressure.
They may be particularly worried if it’s a high-stakes game and the competition is tough. Recovering from an injury or a recent loss can also exacerbate feelings of inadequacy.
Overall, sports performance anxiety comes from the athlete feeling they’re not good enough. Anything that affects their confidence can make it worse.
This also means that you can make things better by making them see their qualities, helping them prepare for the event, and working on their self-esteem.
3. Make them feel understood
It’s common to have anxiety in circumstances that are really stressful. Giving your child the assurance that these emotions are normal might help them feel less anxious. It’s typical to explain it to children as having “butterflies” in their stomachs.
You can give them examples from your daily life, say how you felt and how you overcame it. By letting them know that they’re not alone, they’ll feel less alienated and more comfortable sharing their feelings.
4. Create a strategy
Because anxiety will make it hard for the child to concentrate, teach them some useful tactics to get their focus back and calm down. They should be simple enough so that they can apply them even when their emotions are running high.
One of the simplest things that work like a charm is to take deep breaths. Breathing is an excellent way to regain composure and stay level-headed, which are necessary skills for an athlete.
5. Put the fun back into the sport
It’s normal for young athletes to be focused on winning and breaking personal records, but they also shouldn’t lose sight of what made them love sports in the first place.
While youth sports have many benefits, it’s also great to do a physical activity just for the fun of it. For example, any child athlete would probably love visiting a nice playground and testing out the cool equipment.