As the parent of a young athlete, you're probably used to seeing a whole range of emotions, from wild joy to intense anger to devastating sadness. While it's tempting to try to help your athlete ditch the anger and sadness, it's actually more important that you let your athlete experience, understand, and move through their range of emotions.
Here, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, explains exactly how you can support your emotional athlete so that you're setting them up for success on the field and in the real world. And remember: When we talk about emotions, it's not just about negative emotions. Being able to understand and regulate positive emotions is important as well.
Don't avoid emotions
You may have had a coach who told you to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity, or maybe you're uncomfortable with big shows of emotion. But letting your athlete show their emotions in a nonjudgmental space is critical for their development.
"What I always try to reiterate to athletes, their parents, their families, and their coaches, is that all emotions serve an adaptive purpose," Chapman says. "Anger, frustration, excitement, disgust, sadness, grief in the event of a loss...all of those emotions are important. They're all trying to tell us to pay attention to what's going on internally and externally, and then to motivate us to engage in a specific action." In other words, emotions are trying to help us navigate our world successfully by helping us evolve our understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world around us.
Understand the vocabulary
The crux of awareness training is recognizing that all emotions are complex, but Chapman explains that most people assume emotions are simply 'feelings.' "Athletes often say things like, 'I feel like I shouldn't have made that mistake,' or 'I feel like you shouldn't have said that to me,' but those aren't really feelings," Chapman points out.
It’s important to understand what makes up an emotion:
Thoughts—What I say to myself.
Example: "I'm so mad at my teammate."
Example: A higher heart rate or clenched fists.
Behavior—What I do about it.
Example: The angry athlete may confront his teammate and yell at him.
About the Author
TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, while also creating leaders across communities through sport. For more expert-driven articles and materials, visit TrueSport’s comprehensive LEARN resource.