Helping Student Athletes Manage Stress and Anxiety

Student athletes huddle before a game

High school can be a stressful time for students as they prepare for the next phase of their life. Academic results such as grades and college entrance exam scores appear to have insurmountable consequences, and those students who are also athletes feel additional pressure to perform above expectations. High school athletes with potential for participation at the college-level are required to achieve above average in all aspects of their life, and while some thrive under the pressure others crumble.

We spoke to sports psychologist Dr. Carlin Anderson, a Licensed Psychologist and certified consultant for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), who specializes in sport/performance psychology and counseling psychology. Dr. Anderson offered some useful tips for the adults closest to high-achieving youth to foster healthy self-esteem and life-skills to manage stress and anxiety.

Be Curious & Focus on the Process

Students are well-aware of their academic and athletic performance scores. They also know when they put in full, half or partial effort to achieve those results. Try to help your student athlete measure and evaluate themself based on the effort they put in, rather than the results they achieve.

Take inventory of the tasks they did before the test or game to see if there is a pattern. What worked? What didn’t work? If your student feels like they gave their best EFFORT both in their preparation and performance, then as a parent, reinforce them for this and highlight it regardless of the outcome.

Academics

• Did you schedule enough time to study?
• Did you miss any classes?
• Did you study with a friend or a tutor?
• Did you do homework directly after practice? Before or after dinner?
• Did you ask for help when you started struggling or the day before a test?
• Did you eat breakfast and lunch?

Athletics

• Did you listen to your coach?
• Did you go to practice every day?
• Did you ice your ankle?
• Did you stretch?
• Did you practice drills at home?
• Did you eat before a game?
• How many hours did you sleep?

Detach Outcomes from Self-Worth

If an athlete only feels happy, confident and ‘good about themselves’, when they are winning or earning A’s, then they will feel extremely stressed with the pressure to continue achieving “I have to get As and win games” in order to feel good about myself. This makes it frightening to think about earning a B because it equates to being ‘not good enough’ and being a ‘failure.’  You can see why they would feel really stressed about final exams!

When outcomes are tied to identity, performance becomes highly stressful.  Getting a B now means that not only did I not get an A, but I as a PERSON am a failure. Life successes are measured by more than GPA and championships. It is better to encourage young people to build self-esteem based on character and work ethic so they can handle adversity later in life without major setbacks.

Learning to manage stress and anxiety is not always innate and most young people need help from adults to learn healthy habits. If a student is having an increasingly difficult time coping with performance anxiety, seeking help from a school counselor or mentor should feel as normal as asking for tips and strategies from a coach for athletics or a teacher for academics.

If you are interested in learning more about sport psychology or managing stress in athletics, we encourage you to reach out to Dr. Anderson on her website www.PremierSportPsychology.com.

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