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Kid-Friendly Stress Management

By: X Bats

Teach kids to use these relaxation techniques when the demands of competition start to heat up:

  • Deep breathing: Find a quiet place to sit down and inhale slowly through the nose, drawing air deep into the lungs. Hold the breath there for about 5 seconds, then release it slowly. Repeat the exercise five times.
  • Muscle relaxation: Contract (flex) a group of muscles tightly. Keep them tensed for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise five times, selecting different muscle groups.
  • Visualization: Eyes closed, picture a peaceful place or event. While recalling the beautiful sights and happy sounds, imagine stress flowing away from the body. Or visualize success. People who advise competitive players often recommend that they imagine themselves completing a pass, making a shot, or scoring a goal over and over. On game day, recalling those stored images can help calm nerves and boost self-confidence.
  • Mindfulness: Focus on the present instead of worrying about the future, and stop negative thinking by focusing on the positives. Whether preparing for a competition or coping with a defeat, repeat positive affirmations: "I learn from my mistakes!" "I'm in control of my feelings!" "I can make this goal!"

Other things kids can do to keep stress in check:

  • Do a body good. It's important to eat well and get a good night's sleep, especially before games where the pressure's on.
  • Do something fun. Encourage kids to engage in some type of activity other than the sports they're involved in. Suggest taking a walk, riding a bike, seeing a movie, or hanging with friends to get completely away from the sport that's causing stress.
  • Avoid perfectionist thinking. Don't try to be perfect — and don't expect it in teammates either. Everyone flubs a shot or messes up from time to time. Teach kids to forgive themselves and move on.

It's possible that some anxiety stems only from uncertainty. Encourage your child to meet privately with the coach or instructor and ask for clarification if expectations seem vague or inconsistent. Most instructors do a good job of building athletes' physical and mental development, but some might need to work on it. And sometimes kids might need to be the ones to open the lines of communication.


Stress Overload: What to Do

A child who is so nervous that he or she feels physically unwell before a game or begins to have trouble sleeping at night or concentrating at school may be over-stressed. This can lead to health problems, so it's important to discuss it and find ways to help. Simply sharing these feelings can ease anxiety. When talking, let your child know that you won't pass judgment or look down on him or her for revealing these feelings.

Sometimes kids don't want to play a sport but don't know how to tell their parents. So ask if your child really wants to play or is just doing it to please you or someone else. Remember, while things like college scholarships are a nice reward for hard work, they may not be worth the risk of physical injury or long-term stress on kids.

If your child wants to continue playing, perhaps a hectic schedule is part of the problem. Many kids are involved in so many teams and activities that there's no time left over for schoolwork, hobbies, or just kicking back with friends. Exhaustion can sap enthusiasm, even for a sport a child seems to love.

If a too-full plate is the problem, discuss the options together. Perhaps it's time to let a sport go or to choose one that's less demanding. When looking for something new, encourage your child to try a variety of activities and choose the one that is the most enjoyable.

Once a decision is made, respect it and give your child credit for recognizing the need to steer out of a stressful situation. This is a sign of courage, wisdom, and maturity.

Sports are about enhancing self-esteem, building social skills, and developing a sense of community. And above all, whether kids play on the varsity team or at a weekend pick-up game, the point is to have fun. By keeping that as the priority, you can help your child learn to ride the highs and lows that are a natural part of competition.



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