5 min read

How to Help Your Athlete Cope With Anxiety

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Sports Performance Anxiety (SPA) is a condition that affects many young athletes. It can manifest itself in behavior such as agitation, irritability, or avoidance of the sport altogether. As parents, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of SPA so that we can help our children manage their stress levels and succeed in sports.

Causes of SPA in Athletes

One of the main causes of SPA in children is negative thinking. Many times, children will enter into a competition believing they cannot win or do well. This type of thought pattern leads to feelings of anxiety and fear which then manifest themselves in physical reactions like sweaty palms and an increased heart rate. Another cause is fear of failure, which can lead to extreme pressure on the child to perform perfectly in order to avoid embarrassment or criticism. Lastly, perfectionism can also lead to SPA because it sets unattainable standards that are impossible for anyone - let alone children - to reach consistently.

Strategies to Prevent or Reduce SPA in Athletes

1. Have Open Conversations

The first step is having open conversations with your child about their feelings and thoughts before and after games or competitions. It is important for them to know that it’s okay for them to express these emotions without judgment or criticism from you as a parent.  Having this open dialogue can allow you to identify any signs of SPA and help them understand it is not something they should be ashamed of.

2. Create Routines and Rituals

Additionally, creating pre- and post-game rituals like listening to music together or talking about the game afterward can help ease tension before and after performances.  Routines provide athletes with a sense of security and can help them cope with the unknowns of competition. Rituals also give players an opportunity to relax, connect more deeply with their teammates, and build strong relationships that support better performance on the court, field, or track.

3. Teach Your Athlete About Visualization

Teaching visualization techniques such as imagining themselves performing successfully as well as teaching deep breathing exercises helps too.  Visualization is a powerful tool that helps athletes manage their stress and focus on their performance. It’s important to explain the power of visualization and how it can improve the athlete's mental game, as well as physically help them perform better. Visualizing yourself winning or performing your best can give you an extra boost of confidence which in turn leads to better performance.

4. Be an Example

Lastly, modeling calmness and self-care habits such as exercise, healthy eating habits, mindfulness activities, etc., helps create a healthier environment for your child’s performance overall.  Demonstrating the importance of self-care and exhibiting a positive attitude can have a significant impact on your child’s development. Being an example that your athlete can follow to learn more about healthy, calm behavior can have a positive effect on their attitude and may even help them to be more successful.  Ultimately, modeling these behaviors can provide your athlete with the skills they need to develop a healthy lifestyle that will serve them well not only as an athlete but also in life.

As a parent, it is important to remember that instilling healthy habits and a positive attitude in your child can have lasting effects. Showing your athlete that you care about their well-being both on and off the field will help them develop self-esteem, resilience, and better physical health. Furthermore, modeling self-care habits for your children can help create a healthier environment and teach them the skills they need to lead successful lives.  With these tips in mind, you can help your child become the best athlete they can be. 

Want to learn more about how to be a better parent to your athlete? Download the Focus 5 mental training app; with on-demand videos to help educate you and your athlete on how to improve in many areas of sport and life. Download the app today!