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Sports are a great way to have fun while staying fit and enjoying time with friends. But it's not always easy to keep calm when it feels like everyone around you thinks winning is everything. The key is to develop a healthy attitude about sports and learn to deal with the stress that comes with competing. Here’s how.

Why Am I Feeling Stressed About Sports?

Competing often causes some stress, and that can be good. A little stress helps the body face a challenge and gets you to try a little harder. But too much can take the fun out of a sport and make it hard to perform.

Here are some things that can cause stress in sports:

  • a focus on winning
  • a busy schedule
  • a lack of interest (maybe the sport is more important to your parent or friend)
  • comparing yourself with others

How Can I Feel Less Stress With Sports?

There will always be some stress in sports, so it's important to know how to deal with it. Try different ways so you know what works best for you.

You can try to:

Change your mindset. Think positively and develop positive self-talk. To help keep negative thoughts away, say things like, "I learn from my mistakes," "I'm in control of my feelings," and "I can make this shot."

You can also try to “see” yourself succeeding. Close your eyes and imagine completing a pass, making a shot, or scoring a goal. Think about your strongest skill rather than the one you worry about the most.

If you feel too much pressure from parents or coaches to win, switch your focus. Instead of thinking about winning, just put in your best effort. Try to do one thing a little better than last time. Don’t forget to give yourself some praise when you do it.

Do relaxation exercises. If you feel stressed in practice or right before a game, there are a lot of things you can do to feel calmer. Try mindfulness exercises, which help you focus on what you’re doing now instead of worrying about the future or the past. Find 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you touch, and 1 thing you taste. Another method is to picture a peaceful place or event, then imagine stress flowing away from you.

Other exercises can help you focus on your body. Take a deep breath through your nose and hold it for about 5 seconds, then release it slowly through your mouth. Repeat 5 times. You can also try tightening a group of muscles for about 5 seconds, then relaxing them. Do this 5 times, then switch to other muscles, like shoulders, hands, legs, and stomach.

Take care of yourself. To keep stress levels down during the sports season — and when you aren't playing — take good care of yourself. Eat well and get enough sleep, especially before games. Try to stick to a routine, but do something fun and relaxing once in a while. Go for a walk, ride a bike, see a movie, or hang out with friends.

Talk with a trusted adult. Sometimes sports are no longer fun because you have too much going on. If your days seem packed with homework, afterschool activities, and other sports, talk with your parents or school counselor about your schedule. Think about cutting back on practice time or doing just one sport or activity per season.

When playing a sport becomes more work than enjoyment, it’s time to take a step back. If you want to quit a sport, talk with your parents and coach. Also try to think what your life will be like without it and whether you would miss playing.

What Else Should I Know?

No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes in sports (and in life). So, be quick to forgive errors — yours and your teammates’ — and move on. If you had a goal in your sport that you couldn’t reach, set a new one to get motivated again.

Sports are about staying active, feeling proud, developing as a player, and making friends. Whether you play on the varsity team or at a weekend pick-up game, the point is to have fun. By focusing on that, you can learn to handle the stress that’s a natural part of competition.

Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth M. Schilling, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2023