Sports are a great way to have fun while staying fit. Sports also teach important life lessons like:
- working as a team
- learning how to be a good sport
- overcoming challenges
- controlling emotions
- taking pride in accomplishments
But it's not always easy to keep it together when it feels like winning is everything. Having a healthy attitude about sports and learning to deal with the stress that comes with competing can help you perform your best.
Check Stress Levels
Competing always leads to some stress. And that can be good — a little stress helps the body face a challenge. But too much stress can take the fun out of a sport and make it hard to perform. Besides competing, other things can make athletes feel stressed out, such as:
- too much pressure from parents or coaches to win
- having too much on the schedule
- not wanting to play the sport
If you think there might be too much stress around competing, talk to your parents and coach. Making some changes can help, such as:
- Change your focus from winning to putting in the best effort and having a positive attitude.
- Take a look at your schedule. If you have too much going on, think about limiting practice time or only doing one sport or activity per season.
- If you don't want to play the sport anymore, talk to your parents about your feelings and make a decision together.
Ways to Deal With Stress in Sports
There will always be some stress in sports, so it's important to know how to deal with it. Trying different ways during practice helps you know what will work best for you during competition.
You can try:
- Deep breathing: Take a deep breath and hold it in for about 5 seconds, then release it slowly. Repeat five times.
- Muscle relaxation: Contract (flex) a group of muscles tightly. Keep them flexed for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise five times, then move to a different muscle group.
- Going to a happy place: Picture a peaceful place or event. Imagine stress flowing away from the body.
- Visualizing success: Imagine completing a pass, making a shot, or scoring a goal.
- Mindfulness: Focus on the present instead of worrying about the future or the past.
- Having a routine: Focus on the routine to keep stress in control.
- Thinking positively and developing positive self-talk: Say "I learn from my mistakes," "I'm in control of my feelings," "I can make this goal!" to help keep the negative thoughts away.
To keep stress levels down when you aren't competing:
- Eat well and get enough sleep, especially before games.
- Do something fun and relaxing. Take a break from competing and go for a walk, ride a bike, see a movie, or hang out with friends.
- Remember, no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes in sports — it's part of the game. Be quick to forgive mistakes and move on.
Sports are about staying active, feeling proud, developing as a player, and making friends. Above all, whether you play on the varsity team or at a weekend pick-up game, the point is to have fun. By keeping that as the priority, you can learn to handle the stress that is a natural part of competition.
Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: February 2019