Are your sports kids stressed before games? Do you know the signs and causes of stress in young athletes?
Stress can really undermine kids’ confidence and success. And that hurts their performance and happiness.
We talked to Debbie Mendel, a stress management expert and author of the book, “Addicted to Stress,” to find out how sports parents can identify and cope with stress in young athletes.
First of all, there’s good stress and bad stress in youth sports, Mandel told us.
The good stress, or what Mandel calls acute stress, takes the form of pre-game or pre-competition jitters that jump-start a young athlete’s body into performing well, she says.
If your child experiences pre-game butterflies or nervousness, understand that it’s a good thing and will help them focus better.
Bad stress, on the other hand, is chronic. It can zap a young athlete’s energy and vitality.
What are the signs that a young athlete is stressed in bad ways?
Often, stress manifests itself physically. Kids and teens will experience digestive problems, stomachaches, fatigue and irritability. They’ll find it’s harder to concentrate and may be more prone to accidents.
What causes this kind of stress?
Many sports kids feel stressed when they’re driven—either internally or externally–to perform well, Mandel says.
Sometimes parents push their kids to perform well; sometimes young athletes feel the need to perform well to prove themselves and gain approval and applause, she says.
As a sports parent, you can help ensure your kids benefit from good stress and minimize bad stress.
First of all, to minimize chronic stress, keep your expectations in check. When you push your kids too hard to perform well, they often end up under-performing.
Kids take on your expectations as their own, then feel frustrated if they can’t meet these expectations. That can lower their confidence.
For kids who are driven internally to perform at high levels, help them let go of high expectations. Tell them to focus on playing one shot at a time and concentrating on the moment—instead of thinking about statistics or scores.
Watch your body language, Mandel says. You may tell your kids you’re fine that they lost the game, but your face and hands may tell them something else.
It’s also important to help kids come back after failure, Mandel says. Learning how to overcome mistakes or failure helps kids reduce stress and become more resilient, she says.
As Mandel says, stress can really hurt your kids’ confidence and undermine their overall experience in sports.
At Kids’ Sports Psychology, we provide many resources that help sports kids cope with stress and improve their confidence.
Our resources also help you as a sports parent understand how to support your young athletes so they benefit from the many physical, social and psychological benefits of taking part in sports.
If you’re already a member, you can access these ebooks, audios, videos and articles. They include:
- Growing from Adversity: How to Stay Confident After Failure (for sports kids)
- Seven Strategies for Helping Kids Stay Composed After Making Mistakes (for sports kids)
- Kick Fear of Failure and Perfectionism (for sports kids) Help Young Athletes Kick Fear of Failure and Perfectionism (for parents)
- Sports Parents’ Checklist for Helping Kids Feel Confident
- Videos for Young Athletes: How to Erase Your Doubts in Sports
- How to Cope with Mistakes How to Boost Your Self-Confidence
- And many other mental training programs for kids!
“Kids’ Sports Psychology is a great web site by the way. One of the best web sites I’ve been on. It’s really, really helpful.”
~Gavin Clark, PGA, England
Learn more about the benefits of membership and how to help your sports kids improve their mental toughness in sports:
Patrick Cohn Ph.D. and Lisa Cohn
P.S. If you’re already an exclusive member of Kids’ Sports Psychology, you can listen to the entire interview with Debbie by visiting this page: