Friday, November 14, 2014

The Fear in Youth Sports

Whether it’s happened to your own child or to another athlete you know, “self-sabotage” is a real thing among young hockey players. There’s the player who practices so hard and so much that he’s completely burnt out come game time. Then you have the player who sets impossible goals and then acts disappointed and surprised when he finds he can’t possibly reach them. Self-destruction takes a lot of different forms, but more often than not, it’s due, in large part, to a fear of failure.

Take the two examples mentioned above. In the first, you have a player who is working hard to reach his or her goals. The player is so scared of not reaching those goals, however, that he works harder and harder to the point of exhaustion, actually preventing and sabotaging his dreams from ever
coming true. In the second, you have a similar situation. The player wants to badly to succeed and to not fail that he sets his goals and standards impossibly high.

When a young hockey player is battling fear of failure, possible symptoms may include:

l  Anxiety
l  Stress over scores
l  Stress over reaching goals
l  High personal standards
l  Perfectionism
l  Putting oneself down when a mistake is made or a goal isn’t reached
l  Lack of “fun” and “joy” as they relate to the sport

Just as the fear of failure is a real and troubling phenomenon among young athletes, you also have those who struggle with the fear of success. That might sound crazy at first. After all, who would ever be scared of being successful? Well, in truth, a lot of young players deal with stress and anxiety over what might happen if they become too good at their sport of choice.

When you think of success, you might think of all of the positive benefits your child would experience as a result of his or her achievements. Your child, however, might think of the additional responsibilities, practice times, publicity, attention, and other stresses that go along with achievement. Young athletes who are scared of success often self-sabotage in the same ways as those who are scared of failure. Or some just plain stop trying their hardest, letting their games suffer in the process. 

Whether it’s fear of success or failure or something in between, today’s young athletes struggle with a lot of fear in general. Common fears expressed by hockey kids include:

l  Fear of losing a game, especially a big or important one
l  Fear of disappointing their parents, coaches, and/or teammates
l  Fear of being viewed negatively by their peers
l  Fear of losing love and attention if they play poorly or lose
l  Fear or being an embarrassment to one’s self or others
l  Fear of “not having what it takes” to be successful
l  Fear of being negatively compared to teammates
l  Fear or rejection
l  Fear of working hard and still not being “perfect”

This fear culture is far too prevalent in today’s youth sports, and the pressures we put on our kids has a lot to do with it. By focusing on the fun and joy of the game and not on winning and by praising our kids no matter how they perform, we can reduce fear in our young athletes. Other things we can do to stop our children from feeling so scared include:

l  Talking with our kids about their fears openly and honestly.
l  Focusing on what our kids do well
l  Focusing on improving for improvement’s sake, not for the sake of “being the best” or winning
l  Explaining why perfectionism is never a good choice and how it sets athletes up for failure

If you can follow these tips and keep open communication with your young hockey player, you can help him or her to escape the “fear culture” of youth hockey and to get back to the fun parts!

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