Now more than ever, young athletes are feeling pressure: Pressure to perform in sport, to have a certain image on social media, to get good grades, to do extracurricular activities, and to get into a certain school on a scholarship. These pressures often lead to performance anxiety, which can decrease performance.
"The irony is that the more anxiety we're putting on these kids, the worse they're going to play,” says TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. "So when we’re intentionally or unintentionally adding pressure, we're actually making things much worse."
Remember, as a parent or a coach, this is not necessarily about intentionally creating a pressure-filled environment for an athlete by saying things like, ‘You need to win the championships or you’ll never get into college.’ But you may be doing things that cause an athlete to perceive a significant need to do well in order to get a certain scholarship. And thanks to technology, perceived pressure from seeing others succeeding on social media has caused performance anxiety to spike even more.
Here, we’re looking at the most common sources of perceived pressure that cause an athlete’s performance anxiety to increase.
1. Perceived pressure from social media
“The advent of social media and the rise in usage for teens and preteens has led to a huge amount of pressure on athletes,” says Chapman. “When you're posting on multiple social media platforms, that increases the likelihood of scrutiny. You’re also seeing more competition than you ever would have seen prior to social media. Because of that, social media has become one of the main impetus for performance anxiety in younger athletes.”
2. Perceived pressure from an increase in metrics for comparison
While technology has allowed for a huge amount of improvement in sport thanks to everything from sleep tracking to heart rate data, this influx of information can be a double-edged sword for athletes who can now quantify nearly every piece of their athletic life. And they can also see how they compare to their teammates and competitors. “Not only are athletes seeing other athletes from around the country playing on social media, they can compare detailed metrics on other apps,” says Chapman. “You can quickly see how fast you are compared to any athlete around the country, not just your teammates."
3. Perceived pressure to play more
The structure of youth sport itself has changed in recent years as well, and it’s caused a huge amount of performance anxiety for young athletes. Now, with school and club and travel teams, athletes can be competing multiple times per week, training multiple times per day, and dealing with pressure to perform not just from one coach or one team, but from multiple coaches and teams. “Athletes are also now encouraged to spend money on private lessons with experts, working on individual skills,” adds Chapman. “For athletes who can afford it, this can actually increase performance anxiety because now there’s an expectation to perform. Meanwhile, athletes who can’t afford extra lessons with a professional feel anxiety that they’re missing an important step in their development.