May 20, 2008
Can Parents Reduce Some of the Stress? by Donald E. Greydanus,MD
If you are like many parents, you are probably very interested in having your children and teenagers become active in sports. The hope is that sports activity will be a beneficial experience for both you and your children. As a pediatrician, I am often asked a number of questions about adolescents, sports and stress. “Will my teenager experience stress as a result of sports play?” How can I reduce some of the potential emotional problems involved in sports?” This article explores some of the factors that may lead to a negative reaction by your teenagers as they take part in various sports.
Stress is a natural part of sport participation, as stress is natural in many aspects of life.
Experiencing stress in sports can be a good learning experience for teenagers. Sport participation can teach your athlete how to handle competition, defeat, and even performance anxiety. It can teach your teenager about physical fitness, how to develop social skills and friendships, and the importance of team-play in sports and in life. The
stress of trying out and not being accepted on a team can be a positive learning experience if handled well, or a very negative one if handled badly. Parents and clinicians can be very helpful to teenagers by acknowledging this fact and discussing such issues with them.
Stress can also lead to problems Negative consequences of overwhelming stress are many, including chronic fatigue (‘athletic burnout syndrome’), depression and rapid loss of previously learned skills. “Burnout” can also result from over-training, encouraged by overzealous parents, coaches, or the teenagers themselves. Children and teenagers
should enjoy their sports participation and not be forced by parents or coaches to specialize in one sport too earl y, in the hopes of producing a famous professional superstar. Teenagers who excel at one sport may feel sad or anxious during its off-season. Encouraging other, perhaps noncompetitive sports and social activities during this time may help teenagers who are temporarily on break from their sport.
There are a number of techniques that can be helpful in preventing or reducing sport-induced stress. Relaxation training, meditation, hypnosis, breath control, yoga, prayer, and biofeedback are all techniques that help to relieve stress. I recommend that athletes who are under excessive sports-induced stress work with sports medicine clinicians or psychologists who can teach them some of these methods. You can talk to your health care professional to get more information or a referral, if needed.
Parents should avoid joining the current milieu of ‘victory at any cost’, which is often in many organized sports programs, including high school competition. I recommend that parents and school personal encourage adolescents to set positive goals in their sport activities. Learning the joy of physical activity and acquiring a sense of competence are two such positive goals. Our teenagers should not be placed under overwhelming pressure to win. You should not push your children beyond their abilities nor teach your children that self-esteem comes only from winning. Some young people I have treated feel that they are loved and valued only if they do well in sports. Just go to a sports
event at any junior high or high school and you can see parents yelling at their children, coaches, umpires and fellow parents, in a vain attempt to teach love only through victory. Parent must be aware of this attitude and guard against it.
We should remember that children, young teenagers and older teenagers are at different stages of development, and their level of development may influence their sports performance.
Check back next week for more helpful advice from Koach Karl.