11 Tips for Coaching Athletes with Anxiety
Stay calm. Yelling at an anxious kid never helps. Feeling your frustration will only fuel the anxiety. Be the unflappable rock.
Do not reassure. This discounts the athlete’s fears, makes him doubt himself even more and reinforces the anxious behavior that got your attention.
Acknowledge the fear and uncertainty. For example: “Yeah, relays can be scary because the whole team is counting on you, and you don’t know if you’ll be starting from behind.”
Then let the athlete to solve the problem. In a low-key tone, without frustration: “They’ll be calling your event in about 20 minutes.” Then walk away. Solving the problem boosts the athlete’s confidence and sense of control, two powerful antidotes to anxiety.
Do not ask if she’s feeling anxious. Project confidence in her ability to handle the situation.
Do not try to solve the problem yourself. It won’t work.
Do not try to reason the athlete out of his anxiety. It won’t work.
Wait for a less anxious moment to help your athletes understand what’s happening. Explain to teens and older kids how anxiety thrives on fears and inaccurate thinking about things that rarely happen. You can talk to younger kids about worries that don’t come true.
Coach your athletes in advance to notice the physical signs. They might notice sweaty hands, shallow breathing, lightheadedness, tensing muscles, a short fuse. These symptoms can come on even with no obvious cause. Awareness helps the athlete to be less rattled by the symptoms and to take action before the anxiety spirals.
Coach your athletes in advance on anxiety-busting strategies. These can be getting outside, taking deep breaths, talking with a friend, listening to music, whatever calms and distracts from the anxiety. Getting enough sleep and eating well are also key preventative habits.
Have patience. Remember that anxiety can seem illogical. The triggers and symptoms can seem totally disconnected to the scary thing. Remain the unflappable, confident rock.