The Key to Helping Kids Relax in Sports
Isn’t it funny that when we want kids to relax while playing sports, we almost always yell out to them “RELAX out there!!” The irony is that the emphasis and energy we put into our request flies directly in the face with helping a youngster to calm down and reduce anxiety levels. In the moment we forget that simply telling (yelling?) to a kid “relax” doesn’t really do much, in fact, it often only heightens anxiety. So what should a parent or coach do instead?
First, it is important to understand why relaxing in sports is critical to sport success. When athletes are relaxed their minds and bodies work in synchrony, and negative anxiety is reduced. Furthermore, relaxed bodies provide for the best possible chance of uninterrupted “muscle-memory” movements (the kinds of movements that are more reactionary than they are thought out). Relaxed athletes also have better focus and resiliency, two additional components found in most successful athletes.
After buying in to the importance of relaxing you can then teach kids a few skills that can help. Sport psychologists often recommend the following:
- Deep breathing. Kids can learn how to take a deep breath or two into their stomach and hold it for 4-5 seconds. This may sound simple (and it is), but it is also incredibly effective when looking to control nerves.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique requires athletes to systematically tense and relax muscles in the body one at a time for 3-5 seconds each. Oftentimes during the pre-game warmup this can be accomplished, and in games sometimes simply tensing and relaxing the hands can pay big dividends by controlling nervous energy.
- Self-talk. Yes, simply telling yourself to relax and stay calm really does have a big impact when it comes to staying cool in pressure situations.
- Cue words. A cue word is a word, phrase, or acronym that has a positive impact on the individual. Once a good cue word is established, the word should be written somewhere that is easily seen during games and can be leaned upon during situations that cause anxiety.
Want to learn more about these strategies and help the kids you parent or coach reach their full athletic potential? If so, check out The Mental Toughness Guide to Athletic Success.
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