Ways for Athletes to Beat the Winter Sports Blues
Some sport psychologists contend that the winter sport season can be the most challenging for student athletes, particularly in parts of the country where it’s cold and dark for most of the day. During winter, it’s not uncommon for kids to wake up when it’s dark, then go to school and eventually practice, only to come home when it’s dark again. In fact, seasonal affective disorder is a mood condition based on the assumption that the winter season can be substantially more depressing for some people (with less sunlight being one factor for this condition).
For student athletes, not only are the days shorter (and colder), but many are coming off of a busy fall sports season without much break, and academics are usually in full force by winter, too. And while only a select few will be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, many more will need improved mental toughness in order to face the difficulties of remaining focused and motivated during the most challenging part of the school year.
Interestingly, any one of the following could be a hurdle for the average student athlete, much less all of them at the same time:
- Shorter days, less sunlight
- Cold weather (in some parts of the country sever cold weather)
- Finishing up a fall sports team that began practicing way back in August.
- Balancing the time needed to stay on top of school work and projects, while still having time left over for winter sports
As you might imagine, sports burnout is a big thing to watch out for during winter sports, as many kids become both physically and emotionally exhausted during this time. For many kids it seems as though all they do is sleep, wake up, go to school, then practice, come home and eat, study, and go to bed. Add to the fact all the problems winter brings even without sports (i.e. waiting outside for a bus in the cold, getting a car stuck, slipping on ice, etc) and you can see why some kids simply hit a wall. Fortunately, there are things you can do to beat what many people refer to as “cabin fever.”
- Talk about stress. Like the old saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed,” meaning that if we know what is ahead of us we should take time to adequately prepare. Talk to your kids about the upcoming winter and all the potential stressors they might experience, and brainstorm ways to respond in healthy and effective ways.
- Vary routines. We run the greatest risk for burnout by doing the same things, in the same order, each and every day. Talk about ways you can keep the schedule fresh, making sure to solicit feedback from your child throughout the process.
- Take breaks. Admittedly, it may not be easy to take breaks during a busy winter sports season, but if there are opportunities to do so you might be surprised just how effective a small break can be when it comes to mental health and wellness.
- Keep spirits up – offer positive reinforcement for effort. Try to “catch” your child putting in effort (even if the results aren’t there) and offer hearty praise — your infectious enthusiasm can help ward off the winter blues!
- Set goals and track them. Sometimes kids get lost in the winter season and think it’s never going to end, but having goals to track and follow can be a nice diversion to that kind of thinking. Research shows that goals can mobilize behaviors, motivate, and provide a solid map to follow — all things that will take time away from thinking about how cold it is outside.
- Seek professional help. If you feel as though your child really may be suffering from depression stemming from winter, be sure to examine your school and community resources for more help.
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