Watch for Young Athletes Experiencing ‘Good Stress’ & Tips to Help
Have you ever witnessed a kid having success in youth sports, yet still “stressing out?” Most people think only negative experiences (like performing poorly) cause stress, but did you know success and good events can also be stressful and impact mental toughness? In fact, sport psychologists refer to good stress as eustress, and it is a very real stress successful athletes often experience.
Some examples of common eustress experiences for kids include:
- The responsibilities and expectations with being a team captain and/or leader
- Carrying the success of a team
- Maintaining a high level of individual success, both to self as well as parents, coaches, and even the community
- Transitioning to college sports
Eustress operates in the same way as distress (negative stress) and is largely driven by perception and expectations. Kids who deal with eustress often feel the same symptoms, too, including anxiety and depression. The biggest difference between distress and eustress is that kids experiencing eustress usually have trouble pinpointing why they feel stressed (after all, they are experiencing good things and feel they shouldn’t be stressed).
Eustress, if left unchecked, can lead to unhealthy coping responses as well, including substance abuse, reckless behaviors, and even premature quitting from sports. The key is to first understand that kids do in fact experience stress with success, and then keep an eye out for any kids doing well on the field but seemingly not handling it very well. Additional tips include:
- Talk to kids regularly about the importance of effort over results (meaning there is more to youth sports than winning games).
- If you notice a successful athlete dealing with a lot of stress try and find ways to help normalize what he or she is experiencing.
- Help kids learn about healthy ways to cope with stress, including exercise, engaging in creative endeavors, deep breathing, and positive self-talk.
- The sense of control is a great tool to stress response, so remind kids of the things they control while going through a stressful period in life.
For more help on young athletes and stress, as well as other contemporary issues in sports, check out our handy e-book and toolkits!