Sports are a great way for kids to have fun, stay fit, improve skills, and make friends. But it's not always fun and games out on the field or court. The pressure to succeed can be overwhelming - and that can lead to a lot of frustration and tears.
In some cases, sports pressure is self-inflicted. Some kids are natural perfectionists and are just too hard on themselves when things don't go their way. But more often than not, the pressure is external: Kids try to satisfy the demands of a parent, coach, or other authority figure and end up feeling like winning is the only way to gain the approval of the adults they respect.
Either way, how kids learn to cope with sports pressure - and what the adults in their lives teach them about it, either directly or indirectly - not only affects their performance and enjoyment of the sport, but can have a lasting impact on how they deal with similar challenges throughout life.
How Stress Affects Performance
Stress is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it prepares the body to rise to a challenge with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. On the other hand, too much of it can exhaust a kid's energy and drive, leading to sports burnout.
Events that provoke stress are called stressors, and they can be positive (such as trying to impress a college scout out on the sidelines) or negative (trying to play a game after the sudden death of a friend or loved one).
Positive stress comes from taking part in something that's enjoyable yet challenging. This type of stress provides energy and pumps us up and keeps us on our toes, providing a healthy spark for the tasks we undertake.
Negative stress comes from having to face too many unwanted demands. If your child had a fight with a close friend, missed the bus, and forgot his or her homework, it can be pretty hard to get in the right frame of mind for the afternoon tennis match.