Competitive Sports and Stress
Competitive sports can be fun, exciting and a great way to learn how to work as a team, but many parents and coaches put undue stress on kids who play sports. Many children enjoy being involved in competitive sports and being part of a team is a great way to develop socially, improve hand/eye coordination, and just simply have fun. Parents should, however, watch out for signs that their child’s recreational activity isn’t resulting in frustration from unrealistic expectations to succeed.
Internal Pressure to Succeed
Many children are drawn to competitive sports by their perfectionist nature. They relish the thought of becoming better, which is not a bad thing, until the child becomes too hard on themselves. When the competitions become a never-ending series of achievements and it is obvious that the child is becoming obsessed or is no longer enjoying the sport, parents should consider intervening.
External Pressure to Succeed
In contrast to the inner conflict experienced by many children, adults are frequently part of the external source of a child’s frustration. Oftentimes, children feel like they must “perform” for either a parent, coach, or some other figure of authority. Eventually, this kind of pressure leads to the erosion of a child’s self-esteem by reinforcing their perceived value as being attached to how well they are able to perform instead of simply who they are. They end up feeling like the only way they can gain approval is by winning the game, running the fastest, or otherwise finishing at the top. This mindset can convince children that putting forth effort is not worth it unless they come in first. Consequently, the detrimental effects of this kind of pressure will ripple through their lives as anxiety eventually generalizes over other areas such as academics, relationships, and work situations.
Stress and Performance
Stress is not always a bad thing. A double-edged sword of sorts, stress can be a motivator to increase skill, focus, concentration, and stamina, but too much stress can lead to apathy, indifference, and lack of interest. Where competitive sports are concerned, the right amount of stress is when a child is challenged and motivated to improve, yet still enjoys the activity. This type of positive stress will yield growth in ability, as well as increasing self-confidence and much needed self-esteem. On the other hand, negative stress accumulates when the sport, or activities surrounding the sport, becomes too demanding and a child feels anxious or nervous about the activity and no longer looks forward to it.
Parents can usually observe if a child is under too much pressure from sporting activities, but they may not be able to easily identify if they are the ones contributing to it. Are you, as the parent, consistently overreacting to the outcome of a game, or putting too much emphasis on practice, form or technique?
Sporting events are not supposed to cause excess stress and anxiety. On the contrary, they are supposed to be recreational and fun. Evenly balancing stress levels in competitive sports is the key to helping a child receive the positive gains that sporting activities can afford them.