Pressure is a real problem for today’s young athletes. Many of them are so terrified of doing something wrong that they don’t get any real joy from their sports of choice, which defeats the whole purpose of playing in the first place.
For these high-pressure players, everything, from the simplest “just for fun” hockey drill at practice on up to the “big game” can be nothing but an anxiety-producing disaster.
So, where does this type of pressure come from? Well, that varies from player to player.
For some young hockey players, the answer is obvious- their parents. Many parents push their kids into sports, push them to practice hard, push them to win, and basically push them so much that they push any fun and joy out of the game.
Other players actually put the pressure on themselves. They could be suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder. Or, maybe they just want to “be the best,” but, in any event, putting pressure on oneself can be just as damaging and detrimental, if not more so, than outside pressure.
Pressure can also come from coaches, teachers, and anyone else who expects or demands a lot from young players. Intentional or not, the pressure kids feel to “do a good job” and “not let anyone down” can be overwhelming and difficult.
So, what can you do if you suspect a young player in your life is under too much pressure? Fortunately, there are a lot of things...but it all starts with talking with the player.
In a gentle, non-accusatory way, ask a player, with whom you’ve worked to build a good relationship, if anything is bothering him. Encourage him to talk openly and honestly.
Once you know the source of pressure, you can come up with a plan to help put an end to it. Whether it’s talking to parents, a counselor, or just learning better stress-management techniques, there are many things that can help take the pressure off of young players and enable them to enjoy the game once again.