How To Manage Student-Athlete Stress
Growing up is stressful. Competing in organized sport is stressful. Balancing schoolwork, life, and competitive sport is stressful. Watching your child experience the joys and despairs of their young lives are also stressful. It is a wonder that any of us make it through parenting and high school intact. And yet, plenty do; some even thrive. Here are some ideas to help you help your sporting child manage stress.
Avoiding stress is a short-term solution that can come back and hurt you in the long run. As anyone who has avoided sorting out their tax returns or revising for an exam can tell you. It is tempting as a parent to ‘fix’ things for our child by asking the coach to select them for a tournament, changing teams, doing their maths homework for them, or building the model volcano. But, how does the child learn to cope and adapt on their own? There are times when a parent has to step in: any form of abuse is inexcusable and should be reported.
When I look back to the biggest exam of my life; I was nervous, scared even, and was worried that I was going to fail. I had been taking lessons practiced as much as I could on my own. The exam was public, and everyone could see if I made a mistake. The day came, and my Mum and Dad and an army of parents lined the street to see our cycling proficiency test: I was eight-years-old. I cycled along, and my parents smiled and waved. They came and hugged me at the end of the obstacle course, none of us knew the result then. I felt relieved and comforted. I passed. At age eight, that was the biggest test of my life so far. It didn’t make the local papers and there was no TV crew but my parents recognized that it meant a great deal to me. I appreciated their support.
If we denigrate the severity of the test: “It’s only a mock-exam”; or “it’s only a qualifying tournament,” in an effort to reduce anxiety, we risk inadvertently giving the message, “you are worrying about nothing, something is wrong with you.”
Suppose we hype the severity of the test and micromanage our child’s preparation. In that case, we might be adding to the stress rather than reducing it.
4 Ways To Help Your Athlete With Stress
- Love them unconditionally. Win or lose, grumpy or cuddly, they are our children. If we wrap our love in rewards for “succeeding,” then we are narrowing their identity into “athlete” or “student” rather than simply our child.
- Inform coaches and teachers of the other events happening in your child’s life. Mid-term exams might mean missing the optional training session or the four-hour road -trip for an away match. Teachers might like to know that your child was away all weekend on a camp and that their Monday-morning lethargy was not due to binge-watching TV shows.
- Create family time or friends’ time that is out of the school/ sport dynamic. This is difficult with teenagers, hence the friends’ suggestion, but mealtimes together trips to the mall or playing frisbee in the park are all opportunities to unwind and talk about something else.
- Practice listening. It is tempting to intercede and offer solutions to help your child or to show false empathy and relate everything back to your own experiences, but the child just wants to talk or vent their emotions. I get more information from my daughter when we unload the dishwasher in the evening together than I ever do by asking, “How was your day?” when she returns from school. The teenage child may show little love and affection, and be downright surly most of the time, but they understand and appreciate the fact that you are there. They will talk on their terms, not yours.
Stress Management Strategies To Help Your Student-Athlete Relax
- Sipping herbal tea
- Sleeping well
- Hot bubble bath
- Listening to music
- Walking the dog
These can be introduced and demonstrated by you as and when the child is receptive. They will be ineffective if they are imposed.
The most important thing is to remember that sport is just a pastime, there to be enjoyed, and not a career path for the vast majority of children. The best athletes enjoy the process. Our job as parents is to help them on the way.
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