Anxiety affects many people, but it can be particularly volatile and crippling amongst our teenagers. Teens face pressure at every turn of their lives—often before they’ve developed enough skill and confidence to handle it all. Throw in the additional pressure of competitive sports and you can end up with a nasty combination of factors bubbling bottled up inside your young athlete.
During our research for this article, we connected with Farah Premji, a psychologist at FP Counselling. FP offers teen counseling services and Farah offered us an important insight for parents to keep in mind:
Teens today are more informed and insightful than ever. Remember that being open to receiving what your teen is sharing and communicating is critical in building trust. Mental health is a complex topic, so be open to stepping outside of your comfort zone if the situations or conversations warrant it.
Supporting your teen athlete’s mental health is just as important as looking after their physical health. Some of the following tips are simple and some are harder to incorporate, but all are important. Let’s take a look at what you can start doing right now.
#10: Notice the Signs of Performance Anxiety
It’s helpful to know your athlete well enough to notice small differences in their personality or behavior—just in case anxiety or other concerns begin to show up. Common signs may include complaints about feeling “butterflies,” a rapid heart rate, muscle tension, quick breathing, cramps, fear or irritability, and cold sweats.
Remember, it’s normal for athletes to feel a little nervous from time to time—but negative self-talk or paralyzing anxiety is a different matter.
#9: Pair Up & Make A Playlist
Music can do more than simply pump us up; it can also be used to distract, redirect, and soothe our spirits. Sit down, pair up with your teen, and create a playlist they can use to calm any unruly tummy butterflies, refocus their energy into positive thoughts, and promote healthy inner conversation. This is also a great opportunity to learn about your teenager’s taste in music!
#8: Take the Pressure Off
Continuous pressure on your young athlete can lead to unsustainable stress, so take the pressure off of your kiddo. Stop yelling from the sidelines—instead, show your support by helping them rest, relax, and recoup.
Losing a game or missing a shot shouldn’t be a moment that ruins your child’s entire week (or makes them feel as though they’ve ruined their future). And winning shouldn’t be something they need to validate their existence, either. Show them you love them no matter what, and they’ll be much more relaxed on game day—which, ironically, can actually help them perform better.
One way to ease the pressure is by practicing mindfulness – give it a try!
#7: Promote Healthy Exercise & Eating Habits
Don’t be one of those parents who gives your athlete an overly strict workout regime and diet with no weekends off or rest breaks between seasons or tournaments. Instead, promote a healthy relationship with exercise and food.
Resist the urge to comment on days when they missed a run or seemed to gain a little weight. And don’t make your growing teenager feel bad for having an extra plate, eating a few carbs, or occasionally indulging their sweet tooth. There are healthy ways to do all those things!
#6: Create Open Lines of Communication
Keep talking with your teen athlete—and make sure you react to anything they have to say with love and support, even when it may not be what you want to hear. This may feel uncomfortable at times, but creating lines of communication and keeping them open will be your ticket to supporting your child effectively and knowing when something seems off with them.
#5: Maintain Routines
Via Cleveland Clinic.
Routines are good for all of us, and they’re even better for children. And they’re particularly useful for teenagers—specifically the athletic ones, as they promote discipline (which is necessary for athletic success). But routines also make people feel safe, secure, and stable—which are three necessities for maintaining proper mental health.
#4: Spend Time with Your Child
Show up and be present. We realize your work schedule or other family obligations may not allow you to attend every minute of your teen’s practices, lessons, and games, but it’s important that your athlete knows they are a priority. Show them you can see their hard work, and let them know you want a front-row seat to what they’re doing. You’ll see their confidence go up right away.
#3: Make Sure They Get Enough Rest
Via Verywell Family.
Encourage your young athlete to rest and get enough sleep each night. Shut off televisions and video games—even if there’s a fight on the other side. It’s imperative that teen athletes get enough shut-eye at night to provide them with enough energy for school and sports. More rest will also help them live a more present life that isn’t covered by a sleepy fog.
#2: Use Breathing Exercises
Help reduce the anxiety your teen may have by learning and participating in some breathing exercises with them. This can be a great way to show them your support while teaching them some skills they can use to improve their own health and self-awareness. These skills will also come in handy during practices and games when they need to calm their nerves.
#1: Speak Positively
Via Raising Children Network.
This tip might seem obvious, but parents of young athletes can often forget about it—and it’s vital for keeping your child in a positive headspace. Always speak positivity to your athlete, and maintain that positivity when speaking with or about others—including their coaches, peers, and even their rivals!
Positive language and attitudes support all of the tips and strategies listed above. Stay conscious about these things on a daily basis, and you’ll notice an improvement in your teenager very quickly.
For more ways to support your child, check out this list of Counselling & Therapy Apps Ideal for Teens.