Summer is when a variety of youth sports leagues begin post-season tournaments, World Series events and State Championships so an article on calming performance anxiety seemed to be fitting.
The following tips can make a world of difference in helping your child manage his/her anxiety level. As I reflect back on the times my son was fortunate enough to participate in a regional or state championship event, I realized in my attempt to make everything perfect for him, I caused him a lot of stress that led to him making mental errors not normally made in a regular season game. If you would like to prevent these things from happening to your child during a competition, making these simple changes in the following areas will work wonders.
Manage the Sugar Intake
We are bombarded daily by companies promoting the sports drinks and energy bars. Using these products supposedly enhances performance and is perfect for replacing electrolytes. What the companies fail to mention is that most of these drinks and energy bars contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar per serving. During hot days and strenuous sporting events, the importance of hydration can not be stressed enough; however, when kids drink sports drinks to replace liquids or eat meal replacement bars, the sugar in the product contributes to the already high levels of adrenalin and glucose coursing through the blood stream as a response to the sheer excitement of the day. Adding more sugar into the body causes the body to respond by sending more chemicals into the blood stream to regulate the unusually high levels of glucose resulting in early physical and mental fatigue. Water is the best option for hydration or a highly diluted version of the sports drinks provided. Energy bars can be replaced with lean proteins like turkey or peanut butter. Feed that sweet tooth with frozen grapes or apple slices. This simple change will ensure your kids stay mentally and physically sharp throughout the competition.
Rapid heart rate, nervous stomach and sweaty palms…these body reactions describe MY response every time my SON competes. Can you imagine how our children must feel when they have to perform? As parents, our own anxiety contributes to our children’s. We should monitor our own reactions to their competitive experience and make sure we are not causing them additional stress. The logistics alone of attending one of these events can add to the tension a parent feels during this time; Taking time off work, planning the route, having food and drink available, getting registered, attending opening ceremonies, hotel accommodations and meeting up with other family members, dinner, the list goes on and on. I learned that if I stayed calm, flexible and relaxed even when things didn’t go my way, my son would follow suit. Stress causes reduced oxygen to the brain, he and I both learned to take deep breaths which increases oxygen and could help us make better decisions and not over react. I also learned to change my mindset and keep things in perspective, allowing me to have more fun and not let all the silly details steal my joy. My son was not able to focus on the game if he was worried about me.
Just the name of the event “The State Championships” or “The World Series” raises the importance level of the competition. Winning or losing seems to mean more to us during these times. Young competitors can get overwhelmed by the increased pressure of competition from other teams or individuals who may be as good if not better than they are. The stadiums and crowds are usually bigger and the noise level is higher.
One of the best examples of helping kids keep perspective I ever saw was in the movie “Hoosiers”. The story is about a small town basketball team in Indiana that goes to the state championship for the first time. The games were held in a big stadium in a big city, a far cry from the team’s small town experience. The coach, played by Gene Hackman, arranged for the team to visit the gym where they would play the next night. He took the team onto the court and pointed out the following facts:
The basketball goal is the same height as the one at home
The court dimensions are the same; the stands just hold more people.
The skills required to win haven’t changed, they had won before and they had all the skills needed to win again.
If they didn’t win, it didn’t matter because he was so proud of how they grew as a team and as young men. In his mind they were already winners by beating the odds and being there in the first place.
Are you giving your kids this kind of pep talk before the big game?
Are you monitoring your own stress and making sure you aren’t the cause of their anxiety?
Are you monitoring the level of sugar they take in during competition?
These are three quick ways you can make a huge difference in your child’s performance and attitude before a big competition.
I would like to say I am fully reformed but my heart still skips a beat right before one of his competitions, but he will never know it! All he sees is a smiling, not grimacing, Mom enjoying his event as much as he is.