Have you ever witnessed a student athlete enjoying success on the field, yet still really stressed out? Maybe you are a sports parent who has a child like this right now, or perhaps you are a coach witnessing kids stressed out even though they are succeeding on the field. Is success too tough for some kids to handle? Delving deeper, is the stress that comes with success the same — or even worse — than the stress average to below-average kids experience?
Most people are familiar with bad stress in life (i.e. being sick, having a car break down, experiencing a dispute with a friend), but did you know psychologists have identified a second kind of good stress? Eustress is the term used for the stress we feel experiencing generally accepted good things in life, like the holidays, buying a new car, or getting a promotion at work. Similar to bad stress, these good events also prompt us to react and respond to change and the unknown, triggering our stress response to help us regain control over the situation. The general conclusion is that both good and bad life events prompt us to respond to change, and change of any kind is often stressful.
For student athletes experiencing good things, it is very common for them to also have to respond to the following:
- Increased attention from the school, community, and social media
- Pressure to continue to play at a high level and continue winning
- Pressure to continue to play at a high level to secure a future college athletic scholarship
- Other atypical requests, like giving interviews, being on television, or being asked to use their successful athlete persona in other ways — like talking to young kids about being role models.
What to do
The most important thing to do is to recognize people really do struggle with “good” stress, and that it’s likely your kid might be experiencing good stress if he or she is part of a successful sports team. Talk regularly about the stress being experienced, and be open-minded and accepting of the pressure your child is experiencing. Try to normalize the pressure being felt, and teach your child how to respond to the stress by keeping things in perspective, playing freely and without worry, and learning skills like deep breathing, positive self-talk, and imagery to help with anxiety-reduction. And finally, offer unconditional positive support and make sure your child knows his or her value is not entirely tied to how well he plays sports.
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