Winning is exhilarating. There’s no feeling quite like it when your team’s playing well and beating the competition.
Unfortunately, it’s not always fun and games. As with anything in life, losing and some amount of stress are part of almost any competitive sports program.
Maybe it’s pressure from the coach or a parent expecting you to always play well and win. Or, maybe there’s a recruiter from your No. 1 college scouting you on the sidelines.
“A common area producing stress in sports is the continued quest for finding higher levels of play,” said Dr. Joe Congeni, director of Akron Children’s Sports Medicine Center. “People go from recreation leagues to all-star teams to travel teams and clubs, leading to year-round participation in the sport. With higher volume play, athletes run the risk of overuse injuries, burnout, boredom and family stress known as ‘frantic family syndrome’.”
Sometimes the pressure can come from within. Some players are really hard on themselves to succeed.
The constant demand can add to the stress, as well. The relentless evening practices that don’t end until just before bedtime, the thrice-weekly trips to the sports complex on the other side of town and the weekend games leave little time for socializing with friends and family adventures.
Wherever the stress of competition may be coming from, here are 7 techniques kids can try to ease the pressure.
- Practice deep breathing. Find a quiet place to sit down. Inhale slowly through your nose, drawing air deep into your lungs. Hold your breath for about 5 seconds and then release it slowly. Repeat the exercise 5 times.
- Relax your muscles. Contract (flex) a group of muscles tightly. Keep them tensed for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise 5 times, selecting different muscle groups.
- Visualize success: Close your eyes and picture a peaceful place or an event from your past. Recall the beautiful sights and the happy sounds. Imagine stress flowing away from your body. You also can visualize success. People who advise competitive players often recommend that they imagine themselves completing a pass, making a shot, or scoring a goal over and over. Then on game day, you can recall your stored images to help calm nerves and boost self-confidence.
- Be positive: Watch out for negative thoughts. Whether you’re preparing for a competition or coping with a defeat, tell yourself: “I learn from my mistakes!” “I’m in control of my feelings!” “I can make this goal!”
- Talk about your concerns with a friend. Simply sharing your feelings can ease your anxiety. Sometimes it may help to get an adult’s perspective — someone who has helped others deal with sports stress like your coach or fitness instructor.
- Treat your body right. Eat well and get a good night’s sleep, especially before games where the pressure’s on.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Everyone flubs a shot or messes up from time to time (so don’t expect your teammates to be perfect either!). Forgive yourself, remind yourself of all your great shots, and move on.
If you’re feeling completely over scheduled and out of control, review your options on what you can let go. It’s a last resort, but if you’re no longer enjoying your sport, it may be time to find one that’s less stressful. Chronic stress isn’t fun, and fun is what sports are all about.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Akron Children’s Sports Medicine Center, call 330-543-8260.