Everyone perceives pressure and stress differently. How it is perceived will mentally and emotionally make or break your athlete. As the surmounting pressure builds and builds, it becomes uncontrollable and unsustainable if not kept in check. It makes it harder to get in the zone and connect to the flow. What’s most important is that your athlete understands the pressure and seeks out ways to minimize it. However, when seeking ways to reduce pressure and stress, make sure they promote positive behavior, health, and lifestyle. Like adults, teen athletes can fall stricken to outlets that change their behavior for the worst and are detrimental to their life
Connect To The Flow
Flow is the same as the zone. When you are in the flow, you don’t know what time it is or how much time has passed. Your thinking is clear, your performance is solid, and you are relaxed and having fun. Michael Jordan is known to play in the flow. He did not anticipate. He just played. He trusted his skills and was able to adapt them on many levels. However, pressure and stress distort the flow. It negatively affects your coordination and focus. Something your teen athlete is prone to. Like Michael Jordan said, “I would tell players to relax and never think about what’s at stake. Just think about the basketball game. If you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you’ve lost your focus.”
Here are some positive ways to help your teen athlete handle pressure and stress and connect to the flow. If you cannot reduce pressure, you need to learn how to work with it to control it.
Educate Your Athlete About Pressure
What is most important is you educate your athlete and understand why they feel pressure. If you know why they feel pressure, you can help alleviate or fix the issue. For example, is there fear of disappointment, fear of embarrassment, not prepared enough to play, too much expectation that diminishes their self-confidence? If you can pinpoint the issues, you can help your athlete understand the pressure, why it happens, and overcome it.
Athletes will always feel pressure and some jitters, but the more they understand why, they can use techniques to help reduce them. Jitters are normal and ok; however, surmounting pressure is not. Too much pressure leads to a loss of focus and coordination. Your teen athlete needs to have ways and outlets to help them reduce or control the pressure to stay focused and in the game’s flow. To enter the flow, one must be focused.
Fun is often taken out of the equation. It is done because fun is seen as weakness and that it does not lead to greatness. Your athlete puts pressure on themselves to be the best. And this is what leads to mistakes. Having fun puts you in the zone. Did you ever do something so fun and exciting that time flies by? When one hour seemed like one minute. That’s flow; that’s the zone. And that is the effect of fun. Fun is when you can engage and play without pressure and consequence. Michael Jordan said, “Just play, have fun, and enjoy the game.” So, make practice enjoyable so games can be fun and pressure will be low.
Practice For Proficiency
Lots of practice and training will make your athlete proficient. The more proficient they are, the better they will become with their skills. Hone in on their skills. The better their skills, the more comfortable they will be to play. Proficiency creates self-confidence and focus and reduces pressure and stress. It helps athletes understand that they are playing at their best ability. Your teen athlete needs to know that they are in the position they are in on the team because of their superior skills—so no need to put pressure on that. Many of the best athletes in the world perform best thinking that they have nothing to lose. It is because they believe in their skills.
Pressure is perceived in many ways. For example, it can be the expectations placed on them individually by the parents or coach. No one likes to or wants to choke. But truthfully, the more the stress and pressure, the more likely your teen athlete will make mistakes. Pressure and stress do that. Your teen athlete needs to learn to deal with pressure and not self-impose it because of the expectations you place on them. When the expectation is not met, it makes pressure worse.
There Will Always Be Moments Of Opportunity
If you athlete makes a mistake, don’t criticize them, don’t be hard on them. This leads to more jitters and errors. Teach them how to focus on the present. The mistake is the past. It cannot be changed. Concentrating on the mistake diminishes the focus of what they need to do for the next play in the present time. Let them know mistakes can only be rectified by playing well. Don’t let mistakes drag you back in time. There are plenty of chances to make a great play the will create the spark to make everything ok.
Mistakes are not good, and they are not bad, but they help your athlete learn to deal with pressure. Show them how to correct their errors, so there is no fear of doing it again. If you pressurize the mistake, you ingrain it into the athlete’s head, which can cause pressure more often. Don’t place or create unnecessary pressure on a mistake or error. Don’t let the little errors cause the athlete to shy away from their performance and skills. Don’t harp on the past because it will affect their chances of playing great in the present and future. Have them get back up on the horse and ride.
If your athlete is still having issues dealing with pressure and stress, try these relaxation techniques. If you need, find a skilled professional to help you understand the practices more thoroughly.
Before the game at warm-up, have your athlete close their eyes and take seven slow deep breaths through their nose. It should take them a few minutes to complete the technique. This technique will help relax their excess tension.
Do fast and loose. Have your athletes shake out their joints quickly. This is great to do during a group warm-up. Start with their hands, then arms, and then do the feet and legs, shaking out each one rapidly.
Check-in with your athletes. If any of them feel their heart rate beating fast or breathing shallow, focus on breathing in deeply through the nose down into their belly- Nasal Diaphragmatic Breathing.
If these don’t work, think of something positive and joyful to make them laugh or smile. Tell them a funny joke. Competition is not all serious. Sometimes the best solution is to do the opposite to break away from the negative thoughts and emotions. So, many times, it just takes something so small to change and turn pressure into motivation and inspiration. Think about it. Has there ever been a time you were feeling down and received a text or phone call that suddenly made you smile and feel good all day long? That is how it simply and easily works.
Every athlete feels some pressure when performing, and the less prepared they are, the more pressure they will feel. The only immunity to face the pressure is learning to reduce, deal with, or relax it. Pressure is a vicious cycle you need to work on. The more you feel the pressure, the more mistakes you’ll make. The more mistakes you make, the more stress and pressure you feel. And then the downward spiral begins. If none of these techniques and tips seem to work, try to talk to a sports psychologist.