Competitive sports can be a positive experience for kids. But does your little athlete know the game inside and out, dominate during practice and free play but then completely lose their skills on game day? It happens. Just like test anxiety, the pressure to perform can cause some to freeze up.
What is competition anxiety?
Basic anxiety is a normal human emotion that is very common. Depending upon how an individual processes this emotion, it can include symptoms such as trembling, nausea, headaches and sweating. In other words, anxiety can literally make a person sick. When a student athlete is put under pressure to perform and succeed, the level of performance anxiety can be intense. Fear of failure can become an overwhelming emotion.
Regardless of the sport, children can become anxious to the point of being unable to even play. My youngest daughter has experienced this several times. There are times when the thought of failing in front of others completely consumes her focus and she is unable to even participate. We have had to switch teams in order to find an understanding coach who does not make the problem worse by shouting, "Suck it up!" or "What's the matter with you?"
Causes of competition anxiety
Aside from a child's own thoughts, parents who pressure their children to succeed can be a problem. Possibly in an attempt to encourage, parents can make a child feel like their performance is directly related to how much their parent will love them. Other parents try to live vicariously through their student athlete or have high hopes on a college scholarship. Regardless of where it comes from, competition anxiety can take away any enjoyment the child may have of the game.
- Get plenty of sleep - An overly anxious mind may simply be sleep deprived.
- Eat healthy - The energy from healthy foods can boost a child's confidence in their abilities. Feeling sluggish after a heavy fast food meal is not inspiring.
- Deep breathing - Encourage your child to deal with the anxiety in a positive way. Taking slow, deep breaths can help release the tension before competition.
- Change thoughts - When your child's brain is full of negative thoughts, it can be hard to switch off. Help them learn how to challenge their negative thoughts.
- Instill confidence - Encourage your child to trust in their abilities. Athletic competition is very unpredictable, they need to develop a confident stance that they can handle whatever is thrown their way. Help them accept the fact that not every athlete at any level is perfect. Mistakes are made during games, but moving on is the most important thing.
- Take a break - If your child is suffering week after week, it is okay to take a break. Having realistic expectations and a sane schedule can help them see the world does not revolve around their performance on any given day.
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