Over the last few years,  I have increasingly heard many young athletes refer to playing sports as a “job”.   I don’t disagree with the description, as I have seen the time, energy, and resources put into athletic participation at young ages. What is troubling though, is that “fun” has been overtaken by “expectations” for young athletes. What was once a “want to” has become a “need to”.   Let’s face it, the days of sandlot games ( or even a good wiffleball game in a neighbors backyard) are long over, and the new reality is organized sports at a young age, run by adults,  with significant  costs attached for equipment, travel, instruction and access.

These new dynamics tend to increase the pressure and expectations for young athletes and their expected performance outcomes, thereby raising their stress and anxiety.

Recent research results suggested that the sport setting is capable of producing high levels of stress for many of the 68 million youngsters who play sports in the United States. If, as some authorities have emphasized, only 5-10% of the participants experience excessive stress, this means that for over 3 million kids,  instead of finding athletic competition enjoyable and challenging, these young athletes undoubtedly endure anxiety and discomfort, which can have harmful psychological, behavioral, and health-related effects.

According to the APA Stress in America report, 42%  of teens indicated not doing anything to cope with their stress or not knowing what to do to manage it. This is a significant concern given the impact stress can have on our lives.  The following strategies can be used by athletes, parents, trainers and coaches to manage stress for young athletes.

Get adequate sleep 

Between homework, activities and hanging with friends, it can be hard to get enough sleep, especially during the school week. Ideally, adolescents should get nine hours a night. To maximize your chance of sleeping soundly, cut back on watching TV or engaging in a lot of screen time in the late evening hours. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day and try not to do stimulating activities too close to bedtime.

Focus on your strengths (non-sports)

Spend some time thinking about the things you’re good at outside of sports, and find ways to do more of those things. If you’re a math ace, you might tutor a younger neighbor who’s having trouble with the subject. If you are a spiritual person, you might volunteer at your church. If you’re artistic, take a photography class. Focusing on your strengths will help you keep your stresses in perspective and allow you to acknowledge your gifts.

Eat Right/ Nutrition

Nutritious food fuels the body for maximum performance.  As a young athlete, your active lifestyle and growing body means you have special nutritional needs. You nee to start with the bascis of a healthy and varied diet. There are no quick fixes – supplements, in particular, are not recommended for teenagers or children.  Eat a balanced diet with protein, fats, carbohydrates and lots of fruits and vegetables.

Time Management

Effective time management requires good habits. Make it a point to always be on time, plan your day and prioritize your activities.   The use of time management tools, and an electronic or written planner or just simply a to do list, is a great process for understanding what you have to do and when you have to do it.  Allow these habits and tools to create daily routines for you, which maximize your priorities and allow you to maximize your time  with quality activities. Remember to build in time for fun as well.

Be Grateful

Feeling gratitude is a powerful way to de-stress. It’s not easy at first, because we are wired as humans to “survive” and “always want to achieve more”. One approach that you can take is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Each night you can write the 3  things that  occurred that day that you are most grateful for. Over time, this will become easier and you will become much more aware of the blessings in your life him. Many times we take so much for granted. If you’re having trouble with this,  start out with simple things -that you woke up in the morning, are healthy, have a loving family etc. As you move, you will spend your days looking for things to be grateful for and thinking about what your list will be that evening.

Do things that make you happy   – De-Stress activities

Besides physical activities, find other hobbies or activities that bring you joy. That might be listening to music, going to the movies or drawing. Make a point to keep doing these things even when you’re stressed and busy.

Talk to someone  – Support system

It’s so much easier to manage stress when you let others lend a hand. Talk to a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. They may be able to help you find new ways to manage stress. Or they may help put you in touch with a licensed practitioner who is trained in helping people make healthy choices and manage stress.

by Dr. Patrick Elliott

References:

American Psychological Association. (2014). Stress in America: Are teens adopting adults’ stress habits. Stress in America Surveys (〈 http://www. apa. org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/stress-report. pdf〉).

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