A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Pre-game jitters: Turn off the anxiety, turn on the fun
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
Every athlete experiences feelings of excitement and/or nerves before playing in a big game. While those pre-game jitters usually disappear within the first five minutes of play, what if they linger the entire game?
Or, worse, the rest of the season?
“Athletes should love the sport they are playing,” says Dr. Scott Goldman, Director of the High Performance Psychology Center at the University of Michigan. “Athletes should use their love of the game to help them turn off anxiety. They should be excited to play.”
Parents and coaches play a pivotal role when dealing with a nervous or anxious athlete. It can be easy for parents and coaches to get caught up in the heat of the moment and competition, but separating the child from the sport is important in these types of situations.
“Parents should provide unconditional love and support,” says Goldman. “Using positive re-enforcements like ‘I love watching you play’ is a great way to show support. Love the child, cheer for the game.”
The same goes for coaches.
“Coaches are mentors and life educators,” says Goldman. “The advice they give should not be scripted, but come from a place of truth. The best coaches in the world know how to provide truthful information in an inspiring way.”
Playing a sport should not be work, and any praise given should not be conditional.
The fear and anticipation of losing is another reason why athletes may have pre-game anxiety. After experiencing a tough loss, athletes should review the loss for corrective steps, and look at the key obstacle(s) that prevented the win.
“Learn from your mistakes and move on,” says Goldman. “Instead of remembering the incident, focus on the lesson that was learned.”
In the end, if an athlete’s pre-game anxiety does not go away, talking with a professional could help. Some athletes get so locked-in to playing the game, talking with a psychologist could help them get un-locked, which could improve their on-the-field performance.
“The best approach is to create space where athletes can explore their limits,” says Goldman. “Sometimes all an athlete needs is to talk with someone in an open and honest discussion.”
Remember, the best athletes love the sport they play!
Helping children learn life lessons through failure and disappointment that everyone experiences while competing is an important role for coaches and parents to handle. Are you ready for it?
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