Youth Sports and the Media

Strategies For Coping With The Stress

Here are several suggestions that parents can implement to help their young athlete deal with pressures of the competitive sports, whether it is the Little League Word Series or a regular league game at home:

  • Talk to your child's coach. Open a dialog with the coach, so that parent and coach can deal, as adults, about helping the child deal with the pressure. These conversations should happen away from the playing field. The parent should alert the coach to potential problems his or her child has in dealing with the pressure.

  • Teach a balanced approach to sports. Help the young player to put sports in perspective and develop a balanced approach to life, one in which his or her self worth is not determined by their performance on the athletic field. Make yourself available to your child several hours after the game to talk about any diffult situations that arose. This is an opportunity for the parent to listen and not talk. Processing information means listening and helping the child understand the situation. It does not mean telling the child what she did wrong and how you would have done it.

  • Teach your child how to handle mistakes. Unfortunately most coaches believe that if you yell at a player after they have made a mistake they will be able to correct the problem. This is not a sound coaching philosophy. When yelled at, most young players are more likely to become more anxious about making another mistake. The key performance principle for overcoming mistakes is to learn from the mistake and then let it go. The longer a player stays focused on the error the more likely they are to repeat it.

  • Teach relaxation under pressure. At all levels of sports, the ability to relax under pressure is a key skill. Yet most coaches don't have an idea how to coach this way. As a parent you can help your child learn this skill. Learning proper breathing is particularly important, and, for young players, is pretty easy to do. You can help your child experience the relaxation of the muscles that comes from exhaling. As you help them learn to be comfortable about focusing on exhaling they are more likely to remember this skill during the pressures of competition.

  • Develop a media strategy. Work with your child's coach and league administrators to develop a media strategy. This should be done ahead of time so that players can be protected from too many probing questions and too much attention. It is also important to help players get refocused on the reason they are at competition after talking to the media.

Competition for young players is probably here to stay. As parents and coaches our job is to help young athletes learn how to handle the pressure. When young players are taught how to handle the stress of competition, they will enjoy the game more. When kids are embarrassed or made to feel stupid or that the loss was their fault, they are more likely to quit playing the sport they used to enjoy.

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