Athletes playing at every level feel a bit anxious before a big game.
Experiencing pre-game hitters is natural. But what happens when it becomes more than that and the anxiety is so bad that it keeps them from playing at their peak or prohibits them from playing entirely?
There are a number of reasons why kids could suffer from pregame stress. They might worry about the outcome especially if they feel great pressure to win. They may feel unprepared to compete. They may feel stressed about the opponents and the level of competition they are about to encounter.
Athletes who struggle with pregame anxiety may feel physically tired before the competition. The stress can cause muscles to tighten. Stress can cause emotional strain and physical changes that will hurt performance. Athletes will physically feel tense and unable to perform. Pregame anxiety involves symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. They may even have trouble sleeping, feel extreme fatigue, or suffer from depression.
As a parent or coach, you can help your young athlete cope with sports performance anxiety by recognizing the symptoms. Help your child conquer sports performance anxiety by preparing them mentally for the event. It’s important to help kids understand what anxiety is and that it is not uncommon.
Many children who suffer from pregame stress often have no issues during practice, and the anxiety only surfaces before big games where they feel the intensified pressure to win. Helping your athlete overcome pregame anxiety can be approached many ways. Studies have shown that the following strategies can be implemented for athletes at every level and any age:
Relaxation training involves techniques like listening to music. Many coaches have found that playing music pregame can have an energizing effect that will motivate and get the team pumped for the game.
However, music just before the competition can have an equally positive impact on a child that is struggling with anxiety particularly if it is calming and relaxing music.
Guide the young athlete to focus on the task at hand rather than the outcome. Encourage them to not dwell on negative thoughts. You may even want them to talk about something not related to the game. Have them talk about school or their hobbies outside of the sport. Try to put them in a relaxed state of mind. By promoting tranquil thoughts, their blood pressure, heart, and breathing rates are lowered.
Meditation and deep breathing can help ease the mind. Because anxiety can cause numbness, dizziness, shortness of breath, controlled breathing can relieve the athlete of these symptoms and put them in a peaceful state of mind.
Just before the game, have the athlete take slow controlled breaths through their nose. Breathe out through pursed lips. Have them take 3 to 10 deep breaths and ask them how they feel at the end of the session.
As their parent or coach, you may not have control over the external factors that lead children to suffer from sports performance anxiety. However, you do have the ability to support them and remind them how much they love the sport and why they play the game.