Helping Young Athletes Have More Fun 

Athletes having fun

Do Your Sports Kids Have Fun When They Compete?

Is sport enjoyable for them, or does it cause added stress in their lives?

You would think athletes have a deep passion and love for competing, but that’s not always the case.

Many athletes admit that competing is not fun. High expectations and pressure can take the fun out of competing. Why do some athletes find competing no longer enjoyable?

Think back to when your young athletes first started participating in sports. Practices were fun. Competitions were exciting.  

Kids couldn’t wait to get home from school so they could go to practice. They enjoyed being around their teammates. Probably, many of their teammates were close friends.

Unfortunately, as some athletes grow older, something changes. Practices feel like an obligation. They fear failure. Everything is more serious. Kids feel they are constantly being judged.

Kids start to view wins, personal bests, trophies and accolades as the most important aspect of competition. When they focus on results, pressure and stress dominate their minds.

High expectations can become unbearable, prompting thoughts like:
* “If I don’t beat this person, I’m a failure.”
* “If I don’t perform at a high level, I won’t get a scholarship.”
* “If I don’t win, my parents will be angry.”
* “If I make any mistakes, my teammates will get upset with me.”

All these thoughts lead to higher expectations, more pressure to perform, greater fear of failing and less enjoyment of competing.

Let’s look at this issue through the lens of an Olympic athlete. Maddie Mastro is a 21-year-old snowboarder preparing for her second Olympics at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Mastro fell short of her goal of medaling, finishing 12th in the halfpipe. Mastro explained how pressure and high expectations affected her performance.

“I was 17, turning 18 at the last Olympics, so I was young. I’ve had a lot of time to grow and learn,” she said. 

“I’m going to go into the next Olympics not worrying what people are going to think, not worrying about the expectations or the pressures, whether they’re exterior or my own.”

For the 2022 Olympic Games, Mastro has shifted her mindset. Mastro is primarily focused on having fun and executing her game plan.

“I’m just going to prioritize having fun and landing tricks, which is something I wish I did more of in 2018, because I did let those expectations or pressures, kind of, eat away at me a little bit,” she said. 

“And this time, I’m just going to go treat it like any other contest and have fun.”

When kids focus too much on results and want them badly, they become anxious and underperform. They can avoid falling into that trap by choosing a different mindset.

Focusing on having fun and executing a game plan increase kids’ chances of success. In addition, this will reignite the passion kids experienced when they were younger. 

Shifting their mindset to a productive and positive perspective is a win-win proposition.

Every day before kids train or compete, they should remind themselves of the reasons they started competing in the first place. They should write a list of the reasons they had fun as beginning athletes.

Kids should make these objectives–what kids enjoyed about sports–a priority when they compete.

Next, young athletes need to release the high expectations they have–or feel from others– such as the need to perform at their best all the time or be perfect. Expectations are the root of dissatisfaction when athletes don’t meet them.

Help young athletes uncover their “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” “I should not make mistakes,” “I should make coach happy,” or “I should always perform my best” are examples of expectations kids should discard to have more fun.

*Subscribe to The Sports Psychology Podcast on iTunes
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The Composed Sports Kid

“The Composed Sports Kid” audio and workbook digital download program for young athletes and their parents or coach helps kids cope with frustration and anger in sports. Help your sports kids learn how to manage expectations and let go of mistakes so they can keep their head in the game. 

The Composed Sports Kid system is really two programs in one–one program to train parents and coaches how to help their kids practice composure, and one program that teaches young athletes–ages 6 to 13–how to improve composure, let go of mistakes quickly, have more self-acceptance, and thus enjoy sports more

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