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Competitive Sports: Helping Kids Play it Cool

Sports are a great way for kids to have fun while staying fit. Sports also teach important life lessons like:

  • working as a team
  • learning how to be a good sport
  • overcoming challenges
  • controlling emotions
  • taking pride in accomplishments

But it's not always easy to keep it together when it feels like winning is everything. Help your young athlete keep a healthy attitude about sports and develop the tools to deal with the stress that comes with competing.

Check Stress Levels

Competing always leads to some stress. And that can be good — a little stress helps the body face a challenge. But too much stress can take the fun out of a sport and make it hard to perform. Besides competing, other things can make athletes feel stressed out, such as:

  • too much pressure from parents or coaches to win
  • having too much on the schedule
  • not wanting to play the sport

If you or your child think there's too much stress around competing, consider:

  • Changing the focus from winning to putting in the best effort and having a positive attitude. Be sure the coach has the same outlook.
  • Looking at your family's schedule. If your child has too much going on, think about limiting practice time or only doing one sport or activity per season.
  • If your child doesn't want to play the sport anymore, find out why and make a decision together.

Ways to Deal With Stress in Sports

There will always be some stress in sports, so it's important for kids to know how to deal with it.

Trying different ways during practice can help them find what works best for them. They can try:

  • Deep breathing: Take a deep breath and hold it in for about 5 seconds, then release it slowly. Repeat five times.
  • Muscle relaxation: Contract (flex) a group of muscles tightly. Keep them flexed for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise five times, then move to a different muscle group.
  • Going to a happy place: Picture a peaceful place or event. Imagine stress flowing away from the body.
  • Visualizing success: Imagine completing a pass, making a shot, or scoring a goal. 
  • Mindfulness: Focus on the present instead of worrying about the future or the past.
  • Having a routine: Focus on the routine to keep stress in control. 
  • Thinking positively and developing positive self-talk: Say "I learn from my mistakes," "I'm in control of my feelings," "I can make this goal!" to help keep the negative thoughts away.

To keep stress levels down when they're not competing, kids should:

  • Eat well and get enough sleep, especially before games.
  • Do something fun and relaxing. They can take a break from competing and go for a walk, ride a bike, see a movie, or hang out with friends.
  • Remember that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes in sports — it's part of the game. Be quick to forgive mistakes and move on.

Sports are about staying active, feeling proud, developing as a player, and making friends. Above all, whether they play on the varsity team or at a weekend pick-up game, the point is to have fun. By keeping that as the priority, you can help your child learn to handle the stress that is a natural part of competition.

Date reviewed: February 2019