How to decrease performance anxiety in young athletes

Q & A with Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton, Pediatric Psychologist at CHOC

Q: What is performance anxiety in sports? Could this have an effect on my child’s physical performance or well being?

A: Performance anxiety is related to what we know as “stage fright.” This is often used to describe the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia, which may be induced in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of a crowd. In sports, the worry or fear is directly related to being evaluated about his/her performance in competitive sports. Some people describe it as that moment when the athlete freezes. The fear of failure becomes so overwhelming that the skill level of the athlete appears to diminish because they feel nervous or insecure.

It is important to remember that a normal degree of anxiety will be present in children whenever they participate in competitive sports. However, some common causes of sports performance anxiety are being very critical and making comparisons. Overly critical parents and coaches can place extra pressure on the child and lead them to believe that they are not very good. When children hear coaches or parents comparing them to other players it can cause children to feel as if they disapprove of their performance.

Common symptoms include: refusal or fear of participating, low self-esteem, making negative comments about their skills, saying that they don’t belong on the team.

Q: Do girls differ from boys in the way they cope with performance anxiety?

A: Research shows that girls tend to report more anxiety than boys and that they have slightly more elevated sports performance anxiety than boys. These differences tend to be present in older children.

In general, younger children have limited sports skills, make mistakes more often and showcase less worry. However, once they become more aware of other’s skills and they begin to compare themselves then it is possible to begin seeing anxiety symptoms.

Studies have shown that boys tend to seek out information to help them take direct action about how to cope with the stressful event. Girls on the other hand, tend to avoid appraising the situation, which can lead to not doing anything about the situation. If the athlete does not learn coping strategies for these symptoms, regardless of gender, the athlete could experience “burn-out” and may ultimately quit sports.

Q: What advice do you have for parents to help their young athletes cope with performance anxiety?

A: Praising children for the good things they do rather than focusing on the things they do wrong and avoiding comparisons are two common ways to combat performance anxiety. Witnessing the progress they make is invaluable to children and is a self-esteem builder. Encouraging children to have fun and being on a team that has a strong bond and team spirit can also help.

Parents and coaches should also set reasonable expectations and try seeing the game through the eyes of the child. Surveys of kids in all age groups and sports showed that winning was actually the last reason they participated in sports. Keeping this information in mind could help parents maintain their child’s perspective rather than focusing on winning.

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, or feel that the symptoms mentioned appear to be having a serious effect on your child, speak to your child’s pediatrician, who may refer you to a pediatric psychologist.

To contact CHOC Psychology Department, please call 714-509-8481.

Refueling After a Workout – What Every Young Athlete Should Know

Refueling after a hard work-out or competition is vital to every athlete to maximize outcomes.  Consuming carbohydrate with a little protein is the ideal recovery snack, recommends CHOC pediatric clinical dietitian, Jessica Brown. Timing is important – maximum recovery is accomplished when carbohydrates are consumed within 30 minutes after exercise.

“After a hard workout, athletes should take in 0.5-0.7 grams of carbohydrate for each pound of body weight.   Snacks that include 10-20 grams protein can enhance recovery,” says Jessica.

Consider the following examples for different sized athletes:

120 lb
8oz chocolate milk
1 med Banana

150 lb
4 fig newtons
6oz fruited low-fat yogurt

175 lb
8oz Orange juice
4oz Bagel
2T peanut butter
Keep Hydrated
Maintaining hydration is also important for recovery, explains Jessica.  Muscles are 70-80% water, so focus on hydration for peak performance.  A good way to determine adequate hydration throughout exercise is to measure pre & post weights.  For every pound of body weight lost, consume 2-3 cups of liquid for complete rehydration after exercise.

It is ideal to maintain body weight within 1-2% of usual body weight throughout exercise to prevent fatigue.  Drinking fluids in short intervals is best.  For an average-sized athlete, 5-10 fluid ounces every 15-20 minutes is recommended.  Consuming a sports beverage during exercise lasting longer than an hour will replenish carbohydrate and electrolytes needs.   Not all sports drinks are created equal.  Choose drinks that contain 14-20 grams of carbohydrate and at least 100mg of sodium in every 8 fluid ounce serving, such as Gatorade, Powerade, or Accelerade.

For more information go to usda.gov or calorieking.com.

Learn more about CHOC’s Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services.

Hopefully, with these easy tips, your young athlete will be on his way to a succesful work-out and season!

Have a Fun and Safe Time on the Slopes

With abundant fresh snow on our local mountain tops, many children and families will be hitting the slopes to ski or snowboard this season.

Common injuries for snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts include forearm, wrist, shoulder, knee and ankle injuries, ranging from sprains to fractures. Dr. Francois D. Lalonde, orthopaedic surgeon at CHOC Children’s, recommends the following tips to prevent you and your children from injury while enjoying the winter fun.

  • Stretch and warm up:  Proper conditioning can minimize the risk of injury and optimize performance. Make sure you and your children are warmed up. This can be as simple as walking, marching in one place, or doing a few jumping jacks.
  • Use proper safety gear:  The lack of proper gear is a common factor in sports injuries. Make sure your children use a helmet, wrist and elbow guards, knee pads, googles, boots, and the appropriate snowboard or skis. 
  • Dress appropriately:  Make sure your family is wearing the right amount of layers to match the weather and each person’s activity level. Wear a hat or helmet liner and gloves. Also, be sure to wear sun protection, even on cloudy days! 
  • Get proper instruction: Take a lesson from a qualified instructor before you hit the slopes. Ensure that your children know how to properly use the equipment.
  • Follow the rules:  Children should be supervised at all times. Make sure your family understands and obeys posted warning signs. Avoid icy slopes. Do not go off-trail.
  • Ski or snowboard with a friend:  Pre-arrange a meeting place in case you get separated. Use walkie-talkies if possible. Make sure your children have the name and phone number of your hotel.
  • Take a break:  Like any other sport, lots of energy is being used while gliding through the slopes. Take a moment to rest. While resting, make sure you have something to eat or drink.

April is Sports Safety Month!

Like all fun-loving bears, I enjoy a good game of baseball during Springtime! Of course, we always need to play safe and avoid injuries. Did you know that with proper equipment and extra attention to stretching and conditioning, many injuries can be prevented? Dr. John Schlechter a specialist with the CHOC Children’s Orthopaedic Institute, sent me the following tips to share with parents to help keep children safe.

Head Injuries: To prevent severe head injury, the use of a helmet during batting is required. To ensure a proper fit, the circumference of your child’s head in centimeters should be measured and compared with the size listed on the helmet. Be sure the helmet fits your child’s head snugly. It should be level, with two fingers’ width of space between the eyebrow and helmet. Never purchase an oversized helmet in hopes your child will grow into it.

Playing Fields: Level playing fields free of debris and severe irregularities are essential to prevent falls and lower extremity injuries. Break away or detachable bases should be installed to prevent foot and ankle injuries.

Pitcher Position: The shoulder and elbow of a thrower/pitcher is at risk for an injury if insufficient stretching, warm-up or improper mechanics, and overuse occurs. Using proper technique and limiting pitch count and the type of pitch thrown can dramatically decrease the risk that your child could suffer from an injury. Thanks to the work performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute, guidelines for age- based pitch counts and pitch type have been developed and should be implemented and followed in your local league. For more information, visit http://www.littleleague.org/Learn_More/rules/pitch_count_resource_page.htm