How to Teach Children to Control Their Emotions in Youth Sports

Youth athletes’ emotions can often be compared to a roller coaster ride: The highs are high and the lows…the lowest. Denying this is futile—and teaching a child how to handle their negative emotions can help them both in sports and in life.

When kids lose their cool, they lose focus, their anxiety increases, and the mind-body control needed for muscle memory can vanish. Learning to handle emotions is just as important to your child’s success as learning athletic skills. Here are four ways to help your youth athlete tackle negative emotions as they arise:

Give Permission to Be Upset

Telling them not to get upset, or that there isn’t reason to be upset is not going to help. Their perception of the situation in that moment is their reality, no matter what you say.

Instead, acknowledge their anger or frustration. And then let them know that even though they feel that way, letting that negativity control them will only hurt their game. Thinking more positively can help improve the outcome.

Create Awareness Around Actions

Shoot video of the game (and any heated reactions), and show it to your child later. Players are often surprised to see how they act. In the heat of the game, they may not even be aware of their reactions, and when they see it later, they can reflect on it, and choose to respond differently next time.

Help Form a Plan

Telling a player what not to do can often be a waste of words. Instead, work with them to come up with a plan that can help calm them in the heat of any moment. Perhaps it’s counting to 5, and/or taking three deep breaths. The action your child chooses is not important; it merely serves as a reminder to help refocus.

Help Pinpoint Why

If your child is a perfectionist, he or she may have a tendency to be more emotional. Perfectionists have a great work ethic that drives them, but they often have unrealistic expectations and can get angry about mistakes.

Helping your child understand this about themselves is a good first step. When they are calm, have a conversation that focuses on their perfectionism. Ask what makes them angry, and why they think they start to feel that way. Coach your child through understanding the ‘why’ behind their actions; it can help them move them toward more positive solutions.

Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.

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