Beating pre-game jitters: Helping your young athletes relax
By Greg Bach
What you say to your team before games – and how you choose to say it – makes a big difference in your players’ thinking before taking the field.
You want them confident, relaxed and ready to compete – not handcuffed by pre-game nerves and tension and worried about their performance.
Use these tips to send your young athletes out ready to embrace all the challenges and fun of competing on Game Day.
NERVOUSNESS IS GOOD
Adults get nervous before making big presentations to clients, trying to close business deals, or asking the boss for a raise. Why? Because we genuinely care about what happens (especially when it comes to getting a boost in the paycheck!)
Kids experience those same types of nerves before their games because they want to do well. So let your players know that sweaty palms and some butterflies in their stomachs before the game begins is okay and perfectly normal. Some nervousness indicates that they care about the game.
“We all get nervous out there,” says Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “But we just have a different way of hiding it. I ask my guys before games sometimes if they are nervous and tell them that I sure am. And it’s ok to be that way.”
So be sure to tell your players that even the pros experience pre-game nerves. To combat some of the edginess, have them take a few deep breaths, which helps calm the body and relax muscles.
DON’T SWEAT THE MISTAKES
In the Major Leagues, the best players drop fly balls, bobble routine grounders and commit base-running blunders. Remind your players that making these types of mistakes is part of the game – and it happens to everyone!
If you’re coaching a team that has your own child on it, while you’re watching games on television together at home use errors or mistakes the pros make as teachable moments. Besides reminding them that everyone makes these types of mistakes you can also point out how the player responds to the error by moving on and preparing for the next play and not hanging their head or pouting about the miscue.
IN ONE OF MY GAMES I…
By laughing, having fun and sharing some of your stories from your childhood sports experiences you can help your kids remain calm, relaxed and in the right frame of mind before taking the field. By hearing about your mistakes and miscues – and that you aren’t bothered by them – you can help players see that they’re just playing a game that they should enjoy, no matter what happens.
As the coach, if you can laugh at yourself, a child can laugh right along with you and that frees them up to take themselves less seriously – and perform more effectively.
I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU IN ACTION TODAY
Kids naturally want to perform well to make their parents and coaches proud, so when they know you have confidence in them and are eager to watch them perform, you give them a big boost in the self-esteem department.
Mention to players about a particular skill they worked on in practice the past week and improved on, or discuss some area of their game that you’ve noticed improvement on over the past few practices.
By sharing with them that you’re excited to see their work pay off in the game and that you’re proud of their effort will rev up their enthusiasm – and confidence – for relaxing and doing their best.
LET’S HAVE FUN OUT THERE!
Yes, telling players to have fun during the game is simple and straightforward – but it’s truly one of the most important pieces of advice you can share with young athletes if you back it up with your actions. And you simply can’t say it enough.
Participating in sports – at any age or skill level – must be fun.
When coaches make it fun, and stress it every chance they get, it clears the way for players to relax, do their best and fully enjoy the experience.
Bowling Green football coach Mike Jinks on helping young athletes embrace roles, recognize responsibilities and be all in for the team
Dr. Jesse Michel, mental skills coordinator for the World Series Champion Houston Astros, on helping young athletes improve focus and concentration to perform at their best
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery on the importance of sending players home in a positive frame of mind
Olympic swimming great Dana Vollmer, winner of five gold medals, challenges coaches of all youth sports to find the most effective ways to motivate all their young athletes