Home » Team of Experts Channel » Dr. Keith Wilson, MSW, D. Div. » Performance Anxiety in Youth Sports: Parents Can Help Their Child Cope

Performance Anxiety in Youth Sports: Parents Can Help Their Child Cope

frustrated basketball player

It might seem a little odd to think about a ten year old baseball player with performance anxiety. We usually reserve that term for adult players who choke under pressure. However, odds are that, as a parent, you have seen some of the following symptoms of performance anxiety in your young athlete or one that you know:

Symptoms of Performance Anxiety

  • Can't go to sleep the night before a game
  • Decides that they would rather go buy an iguana that go to the game that day
  • Cries after striking out
  • Does not want to have pop flies hit to him.
  • Likes to swing a bat in the on deck circle but never really looks comfortable at the plate

Performance Anxiety Impedes Sports Development

These are just a few of the things that parents may notice as they watch their children develop in youth baseball or softball. Many of the events that make us uncomfortable as parents are developmental skill issues that the coach should be addressing. Any time a young player starts to have success, they build confidence. Once they build confidence in their ability in practice, then they are more likely to want to perform their new skills during an actual game.

However, some of these sport development issues concern anxiety. Children in general are under more pressure today than ever to perform to adults' expectations. Children where I live develop anxiety disorders as they deal with the pressure of standardized tests that will determine if they get to move on to the 4th grade. It is no surprise, then, to also see this anxiety on the field.

Sometimes we will tell our young player to relax while they are out there. But if we do not teach them to "relax under pressure," then telling them to relax only increases the pressure and anxiety they feel.

Relaxation Skills You Can Teach Your Child

There are several different relaxation skills that a parent can teach their young player. The easiest is breathing. That sounds weird since we all are breathing. But when we help players learn how to exhale effectively, their enjoyment of the game can improve.

Here are the steps that I advise parents teach young players about "Performance Exhaling":

  • Teach them to experience the relaxation response that comes with intentional exhaling. Do this in the comfort of your home. Practice every day so that it becomes natural.
  • Help the player to recognize when to do a "Performance Exhale" in the game. Examples would include:
  • As part of the settling into the batter's box routine before each pitch
  • As a pitcher, just before they begin their wind up
  • As a field player, as the pitcher starts their windup

Benefits of Performance Exhaling

Your young player will start to build and experience confidence as they relax under pressure.

  • They will be more focused for each play in the game.
  • They will probably improve their skill level.
  • Most importantly, they will enjoy the game more.

Performance anxiety is not just for adults. As we teach our children how to "relax under pressure" they can use these skills to improve their performance and enjoyment in both sports and at school.