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Youth Sports: How to Deal with Anxiety Around Return to Play


As young athletes return to practice after being away from friends and coaches for months due to COVID-19 lockdowns, athlete anxiety will be natural. Not only are there new safety protocols in place that may seem confusing or intimidating, it’s a big shift emotionally as well.

Instead of being stressed or anxious about practices being canceled like they were three months ago, athletes are now feeling stress and anxiety around practices coming back. While the situation is similar, the ways that parents can help athletes cope with these feelings will be slightly different and TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, is here to help parents navigate an athlete’s return to play.

Let Them Feel Feelings

First and foremost, it is important to recognize your athlete’s feelings as valid. For months, he’s been told that he cannot play with his friends or go to practice without risking himself and his loved ones, but now, he’s being told to return to play. The shift in messaging was may have been abrupt, as most states are reopening at a brisk pace, which doesn’t leave young athletes with much time to process feelings. “Most athletes I know are excited,” says Chapman. “But being nervous or anxious is completely understandable, and we need to normalize those feelings.” Don’t ignore your athlete’s feelings, discuss them.

Assess Where Anxiety Stems From

Before you can help your athlete figure out how to deal with anxiety around return to play, it’s important to understand what’s causing their feelings. Chapman notes that there are a few primary causes.