If you’re an athlete’s parent or guardian, you likely feel the same pre-competition nerves and jitters that your athlete does. You may notice that in the minute before the competition starts, your heart beats just a bit faster, or you struggle to sleep soundly the night before Nationals. That’s normal, but your anxiety can, unfortunately, have negative impacts on your young athlete if you don’t find ways to regulate it.
Here, TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, explains how your anxiety can impact your athlete, and how to best handle it in an honest, thoughtful way.
Why your anxiety matters
“First and foremost, a parent needs to know that what they model and communicate to their athlete is what is important,” says Chapman. That means your anxious behaviors can make your athlete feel more anxious. “Unfortunately, children with an anxious parent are up to seven times more likely than a child of a non-anxious parent to develop an anxiety disorder,” he adds. “But anxiety itself is not transmitted to a child genetically. Rather, the predisposition to respond to emotions in a dysregulated way is what is being modeled to that child in these formative years. That’s how the anxiety is transmitted from parent to child.”
How to handle your anxiety
1. Pre-Game: Talk to your athlete
If you’re nervous about your athlete’s big game, they may be nervous as well, and that’s okay. In addition to understanding how your anxiety impacts your athlete, you can also focus on how nerves and anxiety are, in fact, completely normal feelings to have. “Successful athletes recognize that anxiety is normal,” says Chapman. “Anxiety is a normal part of competition. So it’s not a matter of not being anxious when you compete. It’s about normalizing the anxiety and understanding that it’s there to prepare you for the future threat, in this case, of not performing well. But there is an optimal level of anxiety that will help you, so regulating it and putting it in an optimal range is going to be what’s important.”
Have a conversation with your athlete about how they’re feeling—and how you’re feeling! Let them know that it’s okay to be anxious, and that anxiety is there to help them prepare for competition. Often, that conversation helps them feel less anxious about their anxiety!
Need a quick catchphrase to give your athlete? Try telling them that the only difference between anxiety and excitement is their interpretation of the situation.