Dealing With Emotional Kids Before Competition
A parent asks how to help her son recognize and name the different feelings he might have before a match and learn how to put them aside until later.
This is a good question. It’s important for young athletes to understand how they’re feeling—and how it might affect their confidence and composure during a game.
First of all, ask your sports kids how they’re feeling. But don’t tell them how they feel.
You might offer a few possibilities: nervous, calm, jittery, excited or anxious?
Step back and give them space to talk. Hopefully, by showing that you’re listening and open to what they have to say, they’ll be able to tell you how they feel.
If they say they’re feeling butterflies that generally go away once they start playing, that’s a good thing. They can use those butterflies to help them focus and play with more intensity.
However, if they say they’re wracked with worries about what others may think of their performance, fear of making mistakes, concerns about not meeting high expectations or other anxiety-producers, it’s important to help them figure out how to deal with these feelings.
Fear of failure is the most common source of stress or anxiety for athletes. Most athletes who are afraid to fail fear disappointing coaches, teammates, or parents. For example, many athletes worry about embarrassing themselves when they do not perform well.
Help kids understand that their fear of embarrassment or rejection is not always based in reality—even though the fear and anxiety feel very real.
For example, kids may think they have to perform perfectly or they’ll get benched, when in fact, their coach knows that some mistakes are inevitable.
Ask kids: What’s the worst thing that can happen if they get off to a poor start?
They should also put their fears aside by focusing on the here-and-now, or their pregame preparation.
You want them to relax and joke with their teammates or buddies before competition. They can listen to some music they like to distract them on the way to the game.
**Encourage them to keep things light and not so serious.**
When kids feel anxious, they should shift their attention to their game plan or visualizing performing well.
How do you want to play the first few minutes of the game? And you don’t want them to focus on possible scores or results. This tends to work some players into a state of anxiety.
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Help your young athletes go into a game mentally prepared and confident!
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Available Now: “10-Minute Pregame Prep”
Young athletes and their parents and coaches tell us that sports kids often struggle with these pregame mental game challenges:
- They feel pressure to excel from expectations they feel from others
- They focus too much on the outcome instead of the process
- They fail to take charge of their confidence before the compete
- They don’t trust in their skills when they go from practice to competition
- They hang on to mistakes and dwell in them in competition
- They worry too much about what others think about their performance
- They tighten up and play safe when they feel pressure to succeed
- They interpret pregame jitters as harmful to their performance
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Help Young Athletes Boost Confidence in Sports!
Do your young athletes:
- Criticize themselves often after making mistakes?
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- Perform like stars in practice but freeze up or play tentatively during games or competitions?
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What are sports parents and coaches saying?
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