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Tennis great Billie Jean King likes to say “pressure is a privilege,” because you often feel it when an opportunity you’ve dreamed of comes along. Knowing how to rise to the occasion to make those dreams real is key.
Kids face pressure all the time in sports—whether from tryouts, big games, or even performing during regular practices. And learning how to handle that pressure can help young athletes become well-balanced adults, capable of handling anything.
How does your child do under pressure? Do they panic? Do they freeze? Or do they rise to the occasion and meet it head on? Every athlete feels pressure at some point, and their level of preparation can determine how they respond to that pressure. Here are five ways parents can help young athletes handle the squeeze:
Emphasize power of choice.
Help your youth athlete see that high pressure situations are really just opportunities for them to test themselves and to enjoy the game on a whole new level. Let them know that pressure can be a friend or an enemy, a challenge or a threat. Let them know they have the power to choose which one it is.
Remind kids of tomorrow.
When your child feels pressured, remind them that this is only one opportunity. They will have many more chances to get another shot. Everything does not rest on today. There’s always tomorrow.
Focus on the process.
Many athletes who perform well under pressure zone in on the process and what they’re doing in that moment (vs. worrying about the outcome). Again, this is a mindset issue that athletes must continually practice. Parents and coaches should not expect kids to conquer this ability immediately. Learning to focus on the process is a process in itself.
One way to help kids focus on the process is to reward them for training accomplishments, rather than only wins and scored points.
Remind youth athletes of themselves.
When athletes focus on things in the game that they cannot control, it causes anxiety and adds to the pressure they feel. Athletes who focus on what they CAN control—things like thoughts, personal game plan, breathing, and learned skills have a much better chance of performing well under pressure.
Mind your own behavior.
Your actions as a parent are just as important when it comes to youth-sports-related pressure. You could say, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” but then contradict that if you show disappointment related to your child’s performance.
If you are comparing your child to other players, putting high expectations on them, or even reminding them that you’re spending a ton of money so that they can improve, you are subtly adding to your athlete’s pressure. There’s nothing wrong with spending money on your children to play sports, but don’t attach that to their worth or performance. Allow your kids to be—and play the game.
Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.