YOUNG ATHLETES AND PRESSURE

by David Benzel: “Growing Champions for Life”

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Athletes of all levels sometimes put immense pressure on themselves, but it’s also common for young athletes to feel pressure from outside sources. Oftentimes that pressure, whether real or perceived, comes from their coaches, teammates, or even their parents.

The level of pressure a young athlete experiences is usually in direct proportion to the level of expectation the athlete has for a particular performance. Pressure is often the cause of nervous energy, and though a little bit of this apprehension can serve as a motivating factor, too much can hinder your child’s confidence and negatively affect their performance by causing them to question their abilities.

There are things sport parents say and do that can cause their child to feel pressured to come in first place, lead their team to a big win or set a personal best. Whether you do so unknowingly or “applying pressure” is your intention, sport parents should assume that their child is aware of the event’s importance and their role in it. The fear of losing or letting someone down can cripple a performance, and actually shorten an athletic career.

Here are some ways in which sport parents unknowingly put pressure on their young athletes:
  • Behaving and talking in ways that suggest that the child’s sport is the most important thing in the family’s life, and maybe even the universe.
  • Attending every practice and every competition; then following up each of those with a lengthy discussion of what happened and what should have happened, i.e. over-analyzing everything.
  • Telling children that the family is making extreme sacrifices for them to practice, train or compete.
  • Constantly comparing a child’s performance to the performances of others.

It’s important to convey to your child that you support them in all of their endeavors and that the reason for this support isn’t their wins and trophies, but your joy in seeing their progress, their efforts to do their best, and their enjoyment of a sport.

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Overall, sport parents can best support their child by refraining from exhibiting negative body language while watching practice and keeping their critical post-game or practice play-by-play to themselves.

When sport parents begin to treat their young athlete’s sports “career” as a learning experience rather than an investment or a means to a scholarship or other award, then it becomes easier for the child to see that their athletic experience is a personal journey that they can enjoy to the fullest.

If they happen to come in first place, lead their team to a big win, or set a personal record, then that’s a welcome outcome of all of their hard work.-David Benzel: “Growing Champions for Life”