Dealing with pressure

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Anyone who has played competitive sports knows about pressure. Especially how it always seems to show up when a game is on the line.

Why is it the basketball hoop seems to be the diameter of a soda bottle when attempting that game winning free throw, or the catcher's mitt seems to be a million miles away when attempting to throw that perfect strike in the last inning?

Your child has probably experienced pressure while competing in youth sports.

Most pressure is self-imposed.

No supernatural force demands that an athlete become nervous in heightened athletic situations. Pressure actually develops from our unique individual perceptions of situations, meaning that situations perceived as filled with pressure can also be perceived as challenging.

It is important when talking to your child about pressure that you help her understand this fundamental point: While some fans may think players who perform well under pressure (i.e. Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, etc.) were born to handle just about anything, that ability has little to do with genetics. Instead, it has to do with how these athletes perceive (and actually welcome) pressure-filled situations. In other words, it's all in the mind.

If your child sees pressure situations as challenges, his focus and attention will stay on task and his body will experience a healthy, positive level of arousal which allows his mind and body to work in synchrony. On the other hand, negative perceptions will narrow his focus and attention and eventually become nervous energy in his body.

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When talking with your child about pressure:

  • Make sure she understands pressure is self-imposed and situations can be viewed as exciting challenges just as easily as they can be perceived as negative, scary situations.
  • Dismiss the erroneous assumption that great pressure players are born that way. Instead, remind your child that any athlete can become a great pressure player through dedication and a commitment to success.
  • Try to develop real-life pressure situations in practice or while working with your child at home, so when she experiences these situations in a real game she will have already worked on handling them.
  • Teach your child the importance of taking a couple of deep breaths and thinking of positive outcomes when faced with pressure situations. Breathing will help her calm down, while the thoughts will direct her focus in a positive, healthy way.
  • Keep a journal and remind your child of times when he has been successful in previous pressure situations. Remembering past successes can be the best medicine for quickly regaining confidence and composure.

Dr. Chris Stankovich offers individual athletic counseling and team/league seminars. Call (614) 561-4482, or visit drstankovich.com for more details.