How Young Athletes can Cope with Stress
The pressures of modern youth sports are creating stress related mental health issues in young athletes. But there’s a non-traditional way of addressing this stress.
That’s what we learned during a podcast interview with Bradley Donohue, a psychology professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), and director of The Optimum Performance Program in Sports (TOPPS), a mental health program for athletes.
When Donohue was a kid, sports was seen as a way of helping kids avoid or cope with mental health problems, he said.
But in today’s sports environment, kids are feeling the pressures of social media, specialization and the overall intensity of sports. Kids, teens and college athletes are experiencing stress related issues, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse, he said.
His program is based on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study by Donohue plus research from labs around the world.
“The athletes are being trained at an earlier age. They’re also being trained to think about what others think of them,” in part due to social media, he said.
When they’re critiqued by coaches, in social media or in the media—things they can’t control—it creates anxiety or worry about what others think.
Young athletes also feel accountable for mistakes, which creates additional stress. They may miss a game-winning shot or foul at the end of a game, moves that may lead to a loss.
Magnify these stressors over long periods and mental health issues can crop up, said Donohue.
He and his associates created the TOPPS optimization program for athletes as an alternative to traditional mental health treatment and compared its effects to traditional treatment.
In the program, researchers focused in part on athletes’ thoughts, actions and feelings and helped them distinguish among the things they can and can’t control.
This approach differs a great deal from traditional treatment, which focuses more on identifying disorders.
“We worked on skill sets to improve thoughts and actions that would likely improve performance. Our job was to move them over to the optimal side. Pathology and symptoms never came up,” he said.
This focus removed the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
The researchers found that athletes experienced significant mental health improvements with the TOPPS optimization program, when compared to traditional treatment.
“Most athletes showed better mental health relationships with coaches, family and teammates plus better performance,” as a result of the TOPPS program, he said.
Listen to our podcast with Bradley Donohue here:
Help Young Athletes Overcome Perfectionist Challenges in Sports!
Nearly every athlete struggles with some form of perfectionism or fear of failure.
Kids who look like stars in practice will often choke up or under perform during games or competition. Other athletes expect too much of themselves—then get frustrated when they don’t meet their high expectations. Or they’re extremely hard on themselves.
In all cases, this causes young athletes to play it safe. They refuse to take the important risks that help them excel and improve their confidence. Suddenly, they’re held back by fear, indecision, and hesitation.
Learn how to help young athletes overcome the difficult cycle of perfectionism, fear of failure and loss of confidence. You can stop guessing about what to do and say to your athlete!
Our program: “Sports Parents’ Top Dilemma: Helping Young Athletes Kick Perfectionism and Fear of Failure,” will walk you through the problem and arm you with practical solutions you can start implementing today.
You’ll start seeing changes in your young athlete’s confidence almost immediately.
Make your role as sports parent more enjoyable and easier! We tell you how to help your young athletes:
- Let go of mistakes more quickly
- Accept feedback better
- Stop criticizing themselves
- Perform more freely
- Think more creatively
- Stop worrying about what others’ think
- Dramatically improve their performance and attitude in sports
- Improve their confidence in sports
- They, too, will have more fun and reap more rewards.
“Sports Parents’ Top Dilemma: Helping Young Athletes Kick Perfectionism and Fear of Failure,” consists of two parts:
- A 23-page e-book that identifies the challenge, explains why it is harmful to young athletes (but also very common), and gives in-depth, step-by-step “sports psychology” tips for helping kids. Download this instantly!
- A 21-page kids’ sports psychology workbook that is intended to help your kids identify beliefs and expectations that are the root of perfectionism. It will also help them develop strategies to play more freely with less fear in competition.