Sport is great for kids to learn how to perform when it counts the most. But with everything else, there might be a learning curve.
This curve can stay low or go high, it can be short or long, and it even can come and go. How it will be shaped depends on different aspects. But this learning curve is not what creates anxiety. It´s how those learning experiences show up and, even more critical, how athletes and their environment deal with performance results of any kind.
To overcome anxiety, we first must look at where it comes from.
Many different things can cause performance anxiety, and just telling the athlete that there is no need to be such anxious is by far not enough. Rational thinking doesn´t work in most cases. When a parent or coach can find out what is causing anxiety in an athlete, they actually can catch it by the roots.
Knowing the real issue is the best way to lower anxiety.
Not just the coach or parent needs to know where to get started to support overcoming the problem. Most importantly, the athlete needs to understand what causes this terrible feeling when it comes to showing their best. It can be easy to find the roots of the problem, but it can also come in layers, harder to uncover. Discovering the cause might even be more challenging than actually removing or at least lowering the athlete´s anxiety. It is even possible that the athlete needs a while to determine what creates the tension. That´s why it´s good allowing to give this process some time.
What are those possible issues, and how to overcome them?
- Missing Confidence
Confidence comes from experience and the level of skill sets. As more often something is successfully repeated in training, as higher the chances are that the athlete brings enough confidence to the start line. When everything in training is going well, and the athlete shows anxiety, the first step is making the kid aware that the race, game, or competition is exactly the same as what's happening in training. I often see athletes try to do something extra special when it comes to competing. This is uncomfortable - It´s new! Everything new is a bit uncomfortable. Nobody needs to train certain elements to come up in a race with something that wasn´t developed in training. That´s why training also needs to include racing.
- Missing Trust
Also, if the coach or parent doesn´t feel confident in the kid, the kid will feel that even when something else is said. Some kids don´t get affected by that, while others start questioning themself. In this case, the anxiety is created from the outside, and the core problem is not the athlete itself; that's just the second step - to learn how not to care what others think.
- Bad Experiences.
It needs ten good experiences to balance out one bad experience. Knowing that we also know what needs to happen if one bad experience is following the next one. The coach or parent should look for opportunities where the athlete has good experiences and avoid bad ones until the confidence level is reaching a certain height again. Good experiences can be improvements in training. In this case, it is an excellent idea to have some numbers to show the athlete the improvements. Maybe it even comes to the situation where the athlete doesn´t feel good one day and still can perform almost as well as on days that feel much easier. That's a great experience.
Out of those three examples, the second one is almost the hardest and leads to one more I want to cover in this article:
- Fear of Disappointing Others
Being in athletic programs is not for free. It takes money, time, and commitment from the ones who support the young athlete. This can weigh heavy on kids' shoulders if they feel they have to “pay back.” It can also be that athletes feel a lot of pressure when the whole team relies on them. Also, in this case, at first, it is important to know that this is the cause of performance anxiety. Only then it is possible to rewire these thoughts. Parents can explain that they are having a great time and love to support without any expectations from the athlete, but trying their best. And the team can make sure that they win and lose together. It also helps to keep performance outcomes neutral and not overtreat a win.
In part 2 about this topic, I will cover a few more points to give thought, as well as problems like feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, and uncertain.
Overall, I think it´s not unusual to be a little nervous leading up to a competition. It also shows that the athlete cares about the upcoming performance and result. Still, as soon as the competition is happening, it´s only about the action that needs to be taken, with little to no space for counterproductive thoughts.
The good news is there are ways to overcome performance anxiety as a young athlete. If this topic is hot for you or your athlete at home, start the overcome with finding the cause.
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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