Helping Young Athletes Trust in Their Skills When Competing

By: Dr. Patrick Cohn And Lisa Cohn

Do your sports kids excel in practice, but freeze up in competition? Do they have a hard time just being spontaneous and "free" when they compete? Are they so afraid of making mistakes that they don't take risks?

Freezing up in competition is a common challenge for young athletes. Some kids and teens love to practice and improve, but when it comes to competing, they suddenly don't trust in their own skills and or have confidence in their abilities.

All young athletes lack trust (freedom of movement) and confidence in their skills from time to time, for many reasons.

Maybe they're new to a particular sport. Maybe they're trying to learn a brand new skill and haven't quite gotten it yet. Perhaps they're perfectionists and feel that their performance isn't "perfect" enough. They may also be afraid of making mistakes, so they play or compete tentatively.

Why should kids trust in their skills and abilities?

If they believe in their ability to execute a skill successfully, they'll feel more confident. And more confidence will lead to more trust. That's crucial to success and happiness in sports. In order to trust, athletes need to let go of conscious control. They need to stop overanalyzing every play, shot, or throw, for example. They must be able to perform spontaneously and intuitively.

As parents and coaches, there's lots you can do to help young athletes learn to compete with trust and freedom.

First of all, look at your own behavior. Do you:

&bull Ask your child to focus on proper or perfect form during the game?

&bull Encourage your child to try to be perfect when performing?

&bull Over-coach your child right before game time?

&bull Introduce a different method than the coach's
and confuse your child?

Instead, you need to:

&bull Help your young athletes leave practice on the practice field, and learn to trust in their abilities.

&bull Help them switch into an athletic, "let it happen" mindset in competition. Tell them to react intuitively, to keep it simple: See the ball and hit it.

&bull Help them think of ways to perform in the here-and-now. How can they get the job done without worrying about or analyzing how to get the job done?

Recreation and Sports
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