The January return to school is filled with excitement for fresh starts, particularly for teenagers stepping back into the competitive realm of sports. It’s time to start preparing for practices and new seasons, and with that comes a lot of thrills for athletes who love and live their game. However, beneath the surface of excitement lies a shadow of apprehension for some—fear of failure, performance pressure, and social anxieties casting a negative shadow over the thrill of returning to the field.
If you’re looking to tackle teenage sports anxiety after the holiday season and get back in the game with a pure mindset for sports, keep reading.
Sports performance anxiety is a form of stress or apprehension experienced by athletes before or during sports events. It stems from the fear of failure, the pressure to meet expectations, or the dread of letting down oneself or teammates. This anxiety can really drain your ability to perform optimally, leading to self-doubt, nervousness, and a decline in performance quality.
In teens, the fear of failure, the pressure to excel, and comparisons to peers create a perfect storm of stress.
The teenage sports landscape harbors a blend of factors contributing to anxiety, and a lot of them have everything to do with the way pressure piles up on teenagers. A key difference for athletes ages 12-19 comes from their internal systems. Though hormone shifts can mean higher endurance and faster healing, they may also contribute to more frustration, a lack of patience with yourself, and an increased need for rest. Of course, teens don’t always feel they have the time to get that needed rest between school, sports, and maintaining relationships with friends, families, and their teammates.
Hormonal and emotional shifts, social dynamics, and academic strains also create a whirlwind of stress that easily spills into the sports arena. Coupled with the pressure to excel, the fear of disappointing teammates, and constant comparisons, it becomes a recipe for paralyzing performance anxiety among talented young athletes.
The holiday hiatus adds another layer of complexity. Taking the winter season off from sports gives you a great opportunity to recharge your athletic batteries, but it can make the return to rigorous practice seem daunting.
Muscle memory fades, skills dull, and self-doubt whispers, amplifying existing anxieties and it can turn the first few practices (and even games!) as you get back into the groove into a nerve-wracking experience. Even if you’ve always loved the discipline that comes with being a teen athlete, you might find yourself procrastinating in the transition after the holiday season back to match-fit enthusiasm.
Teens, this section is as much for you as it is for your parents. Have a read and then, if it helps, send it on to your parents or even your coach so they can get their head in the game too. Supporting you is their sport of choice, after all!
Who makes you feel heard? Make time to speak to them regularly, particularly before games or practices that feel particularly daunting. If you're into sharing your thoughts, consider keeping a journal or live-posting how you’re feeling. Creating a community of other teens who understand, be it in person or digitally, can make you feel less alone.
For the adults around you: Create a safe space for your teen to express anxieties without judgment. Active listening and validation are crucial, reassuring even the most resilient athletes that they're not alone in their struggles.
Acknowledge setbacks post-holidays and focus on gradual progress. Emphasize the joy of playing over the pressure to win, celebrating small victories, surprises, or milestones along the way. After all, there are more victories in your craft than putting a winning score on the board.
Engage coaches to foster a supportive team environment and employ positive reinforcement to bolster confidence. Consider building up a time for the team to come together and share encouragement and support ahead of the first few practices back.
It’s a good idea to put a little extra wiggle room on the schedule before and after the first game to make sure everyone’s got the space to work through their feelings without impacting the collective focus.
If pre-game anxiety is beginning to bleed into your everyday life, it might be time to seek a bit more support. Talking to a therapist is a power move that even celebs are making. So for athletes who experience any kind of mental health barrier, it’s a great way to unlock access to your best performance yet. It works in the same way you’d see your physical therapist or a doctor to address an injury that keeps you from playing your best.
For the adult in your life: Supporting your athlete to see a sports mindset coach, therapist or ordering our Sports Mindset book to read on the sidelines of your teen’s game can be a great way to help them help themselves.
At any time of year, teenage sports anxiety is a natural facet of the athletic journey.
Equipping yourself (or your teen) with tools and support to enable peak performance will give that anxiety some direction. When we work together to re-focus the mindset in sports, your teen athlete will be well-supported to turn those jitters into personal growth and resilience.
This cultivates not just superior athletes but individuals adept at navigating life's challenges.
With these strategies in hand, the start of your 2024 season will transform into an athletic triumph, not trepidation. But if you find yourself still feeling a little on edge, we’ve got you covered. Pure Health Center is still taking clients for our sports mindset coaching, and counseling for teens.
Lace up your shoes, take a deep breath, and stride onto the field, armed with courage and confidence to conquer anxieties and embrace the game.