As you might guess, a good many of the student athletes that I see at my office talk about the impact “pressure” has on their athletic performance. The word “pressure” is really a synonym for “expectations,” and talented student athletes often experience expectations from others that can be quite lofty. Making things worse, even the most well-intended parents and coaches can unknowingly create pressure for kids by regularly asking about their sport performances. In other examples, adults have purposely pushed their kid, with the thinking that demanding high results is a good thing to do. In either case, whether pressure is unintentional or by design, kids feel it and it can lead to poor athletic performance and other unintended consequences, including poor stress coping and falling grades.
The concept of sport pressure is built around expectations, especially high expectations. When expectations are lofty, and kids feel as though their sport skill set isn’t strong enough to meet such expectations, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. The additional work trying to close this gap only compounds the already difficult challenge of simply trying to play at a high level, and often kids begin to physically feel the effects of pressure in very real ways, including stomach aches, uncontrollable nervous energy, panic attacks, poor focus, and premature fatigue.
Unlike a physical injury, the effects of pressure are more difficult to pinpoint and treat. Many kids experience pressure but can’t put their finger on why, and in other cases kids know exactly who is most responsible for setting high expectations and creating pressure, but they feel too intimidated to say anything. Sadly, kids who experience pressure can end up having poor seasons simply because of trying to live up to expectations rather than playing freely and enjoying their sport.
Types of pressure
There are both direct and indirect forms of pressure that kids experience, and both can have a negative effect on athletic performance and human development. Direct pressure is just that — it’s when adults speak to kids directly about what needs to be done to win a championship, earn a college athletic scholarship, etc. Indirect pressure, on the other hand, is more subtle in nature and not easily observable — like when the majority of family conversations seem to innocently center around sport success. Listed below are additional examples of direct and indirect pressure kids experience:
- Regularly talking to kid about what he/she needs to do to be successful in sports
- Setting up future contingencies based on sport success (i.e. you need to get that athletic scholarship in order to go to college)
- Displaying anger and frustration when a kid fails to live up to expectations
- Making threats that if the kid doesn’t improve he will be cut and let everyone down
- Regularly assuming the kid wants to play sports and basing all decisions around sports
- Making sport decisions for your kid without letting your kid be a part of the decision making process
- Engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, like leaving clues out to send a message (i.e. purposely talking about how good the backup kid is to help scare your kid to improve).
- Showcasing your kid at camps and clinics without his or her interest or approval to do so
For most parents and coaches, the pressure they create for kids is accidental and not by design. Put another way, adults who want the best for the kids they parent and coach don’t think that the expectations they have are necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, may even help produce good results. The problem develops when kids feel overwhelmed, and left to deal with both direct and indirect pressure that never seems to end. Talk to kids regularly about these kinds of pressures, and work together to mitigate future pressure from developing.
anxiety, coaching stress, health, illness, mental, parenting, Parents_old, pressure, psychology, sport, toughness