The Joint Ventures' Blog

Are We Fostering Good Emotional Health for Our Athletes?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Whether your athlete is an elementary school soccer player or a collegiate hockey player, athletes are constantly in situations that can foster a high amount of anxiety and stress. According to Merriam Webster, anxiety is defined as “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate); by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat; and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.” What this means for athletes is that a game, event, or competition may elicit a level of fear, doubt, and stress that can directly affect their ability to perform.


As physical therapists, parents, friends, other health care providers and/or coaches, it is our job to not only try to ease the athlete’s stress, but also manage our own. For example, studies have shown that an athlete can sense a coach or parent’s stress through both behavioral and visual signs shown by the coach or parent. Many times, it is believed that this stress actually motivates the athlete to perform better. Contrary to that belief, research has shown that perceived stress from the athlete’s support system actually may decrease their confidence and lead to poorer performances. Think of Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots. He rarely shows emotions while coaching during the game, and the Patriots continue to outperform other teams each season. Is this a coincidence? Maybe not.


So, how do we support our athletes and foster good emotional health? Here are some tips:

  1. Do not degrade the athlete’s performance, even if they have had one of the worst games of their career. Failure is okay. It will help them grow. Focus on constructive criticism on certain skills they can improve on, and talk to them about how they are feeling about the game and what they think happened. The athlete may have a variety of emotions after the game that you are not expecting them to have, so don't add your emotions onto theirs.
  2. Do not show your own stress and choose your words wisely. Try to use your own stress to foster positive, supportive body language and phrases that encourage your athlete. “Pump up” your athletes by telling them that they have the skills to score the game winning goal, not yell at them because they have missed the last four. Never let them see that you are disappointed in them as this may continue to foster poor performance, not improve their current emotional angst during a stressful situation.
  3. Bring them to a sports psychologist. This may be more applicable for those who have had injuries and are having difficulties with return to sport, or have some other form of performance anxiety or unhealthy training regimens. This also would benefit an athlete who has had a career ending injury. Sports psychologists are trained to assist with the variety of emotions and stressors that sports create in an athlete's life. There are many local resources and health care providers that can help your athlete with their anxiety, particularly if it is affecting their day-to-day lives and overall health.

If you have questions about your athlete or Sports Psychology, call our office at 617-536-1161, or email me, Courtney Chaulk, at Courtney.Chaulk@JointVenturesPT.com.

Resources:

  1. Poucher ZA, Tamminen KA, Kerr G. Providing Social Support to Female Olympic Athletes. J Sport Ex Psych. 2018;40:217-28.
  2. Thelwell RC, Wagstaff CR, Rayner A, Chapman M, Barker J. Exploring athletes' perceptions of coach stress in elite sport environments. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jan;35(1):44-55.
  3. Englert C, Bertrams A. Anxiety, Ego Depletion, and Sports Performance. J Sport Ex Psych. 2012;34:580-99.
  4. Smith RE, Smoll FL, Barnett NP. Reduction of children's sport performance anxiety through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches. J App Devel Psych. 1995;16(1):125-42.

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