Childrens Health

How to Reduce Your Child’s Stress before the Big Game – Full-time

Just like adult athletes, children who participate in competitive sports can and do experience stress. Whether it is self-inflected stress resulting from a desire to perform well, or stress inflected by well-meaning parents and coaches who want their kids to win, it’s important that adults recognize that kids suffer from pregame stress and that they take the necessary steps to reduce it.

Be supportive

Remind yourself that your role as a parent is to be a cheerleader for your child.  Recognize the good things that he does.  Remember that it’s okay if he makes mistakes because if he isn’t making mistakes, he isn’t learning.  Praise him for having the courage to try and remind him that whether he wins or loses you are always in his corner.

Have your child write about his stress

According to a study performed at the University of Chicago, students who wrote about stress before taking a test did better on the test.  Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, is one of the leading experts on “choking under pressure”.  Her research has shown that writing about what is stressing a child can help them avoid choking during a big game.  Stress can cause the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that retains information about performing a task, to overload and shut down.  When this happens, it is said that the person, “chokes,” or freezes up and can’t perform up to his ability.

Encourage your child to practice a lot 

When he practices his skills he will become more confident in his abilities and worry less about messing up.  The more integrated a skill becomes the easier it is to perform the skill automatically.

Watch what your child eats the day of the game

Avoid caffeine and sugars before a big game because both substances can lead to feeling jittery.  According to WebMD, a good meal choice is something that includes complex carbohydrates and is low-fat, such as whole-grain pasta, pizza, or a bean and rice burrito.  Eating a few hours before the game will give his body time to start digesting the food and provide the fuel that he needs to perform well. 

Teach your child to visualize a positive outcome

Leading athletes visualize themselves performing well during a competition.  Your child can utilize this technique as well.  By visualizing himself performing well his body can bring the vision to fruition.  Help him avoid thinking about failure as that can increase his stress levels.

 Laughter also increases circulation and causes muscles to relax, thereby decreasing the stress that your child feels.

Encourage your child to take a few deep breaths before the game starts 

Have your child place his hand on his abdomen just above his waistband and ask him to sigh.  Ask him to relax his shoulders and then take a deep breath in through his nose and feel how his abdomen goes out.  Then count to 3 and blow the breath out through his mouth.  He should be able to feel his abdomen go in.  Repeat this process a few times until he feels calmer. 

Make your child laugh

According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, laughter increases oxygen to the body, which increases the production of endorphins.  Endorphins are feel-good chemicals released by your brain.  Laughter also increases circulation and causes muscles to relax, thereby decreasing the stress that your child feels.  Laughter may also increase personal satisfaction over time.

Focus on fun!  

Remind your child that he is playing this sport because he enjoys it.  Help him focus on having fun and enjoying playing the game.  If he can shift his focus away from what is stressing him out and onto having a good time he will forget all about his anxiety.

Utilizing these techniques should help decrease your child’s stress and performance anxiety.  If it does not, you may want to look into taking him to a sports psychologist who specializes in sports related struggles.  There are treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy or medications that could help.

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