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Overcoming Competition Anxiety in Young Athletes

It is estimated that 6-20% of adolescents have anxiety. Parents and coaches play a significant role in reducing anxiety and helping athletes overcome competition anxiety to perform their best.

What is sport competitive anxiety?

Anxiety presents itself as stress, tension, or unpleasant feelings towards a future event. Competition is a vital part of any sport and can cause anxiety in young athletes, particularly more common in female athletes and older adolescent athletes. It is completely normal to experience nerves for an upcoming game or competition, but anxiety can be overbearing to some athletes and reduce performance. Luckily, there are methods to help athletes overcome the debilitating effects of sport competitive anxiety.  

Why talk about sport competitive anxiety?

Clinical diagnosis of anxiety and other stress disorders continue to increase in frequency and is especially common among young adults and teenagers. In fact, an estimated 6-20% of adolescents have anxiety. Anxiety can have negative long-term effects on young adults and teenagers, therefore, if as a parent or coach you can help an athlete learn to overcome anxiety while they are young, they will better handle anxiety for the rest of their lives.  

Key Points

  • Build Confidence: When an athlete is confident, their thoughts are more positive, their concentration is improved, and their goals are higher and achieved more often because their effort also increases. As a parent and coach, it is vital to use positive encouragement and teach positive self-talk to build confidence. Athletes who practice positive self-talk will have more confidence and perform their best come game time.  
  • Overcome Fear: Fear of failure, poor performance, receiving negative feedback and injury are all sources of anxiety in athletes. During practice, create opportunities for competition. In a more comfortable situation, like practice, young athletes will learn to deal with failure and poor performance.  
  • Manage Social Expectation: Most, if not all, sporting events bring in a crowd. Crowds consist of friends, family, and fans. The crowd is always cheering for the best for their team, and these expectations can be a major source of competitive anxiety. Be sure that when you are saying anything from the crowd, it is encouraging to all athletes and not done in a hateful and intimidating way.  

How to Take Action

A coach has the responsibility to encourage and assist athletes in controlling and managing all mental aspects of sport, including anxiety. Getting your mind right as an athlete may be just as important as any physical aspect of sport. Build youth athletes' confidence by using positive self-talk with them, help them overcome fear by practicing in a comfortable environment, and ensure that all cheers coming from the crowd are encouraging to the team and athletes.

For a comprehensive scientific review on sport competition anxiety please refer to Fadare et al. (2022). IJSMS; Athletes' Confidence and Anxiety Management: A Review in Achieving Optimal Sport Performance. 10.51386/25815946/ijsms-v5i4p133.