As we begin gearing back up for school and our kids’ sports activities, Simone Biles’ courageous decision to prioritize her mental wellbeing over greater recognition, opens up new, healthier ways for us to support our young athletes.
Simone showed parents and kids alike that even an Olympic four-time gold medal winner can experience performance anxiety. She showed us when our mental fitness puts our physical safety at risk, it’s OK to say you’re not OK.
Here’s an interesting statistic: Dr. Claudia Reardon, professor of psychiatry at University of Wisconsin and Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of NCAA (National College Athletic Association) surveyed 165 elite athletes on mental health issues and found 58% were at potential mental health risk. Reardon says, “Elite athletes suffer from depression and anxiety and can exceed the general population rate. They’re not the flawless Gods we set them up to be.”
If athletes who have been trained for much of their life to be tough and persevere through all kinds of pain suffer from anxiety, it’s a great wake-up call to have greater sensitivity to our children’s mental-emotional selves in sport. Here’s some tips culled from psychologists and athletic trainers to better support your young athletes.
Tips for Parenting Youth Athletes
Expand Your Concept of Playing Sports to Include Attention to Physical and Mental Development
- Coaches and parents want kids to develop grit, resilience, and determination. They’re mental qualities that enable our kids to physically muscle through pain and difficulty in sports. These qualities can transfer to goal achievement in all parts of our kids’ lives. At the same time, pushing our kids too hard is what leads to anxiety and burnout. Have check-ins to find out how they’re feeling physically and mentally. Help your children learn what their limits are and to respect them.
- Local mental performance coach, Brett Ashley Davis, BADavisMPC@gmail.com, explains how she works with a local high school wrestler fighting anxiety on the mat. “We take a collaborative approach to recognize the cause and effect and bring awareness to his body language, focus and self-talk when he’s in control vs starting to lose control.”
Teach Your Kids to Speak Up
- That’s what Simone did. She spoke up about sexual abuse from the USA Gymnastics doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar. She spoke up at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics when she knew she was not mentally fit to compete and could seriously hurt herself and her team. Our kids need to hear from us that it’s important to speak up when they feel something isn’t right with themselves, their coaches, or their team. Being open and vulnerable with our feelings is a strength. As Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt says. “I’m accepting that speaking out, getting help, and being vulnerable is strength.”
Be a Role Model of Courageous Vulnerability
- You are your child’s best role model of speaking up and speaking out. Show your children you’re not perfect. You have bad days when you’re not being the parent, spouse, or person you want to be. Speak about those moments so that they can identify, accept and express when they’re not at their best.
Shift the Focus of Sports from Winning to Being Your Best Self and Having Fun
- As kids get older and talk of college scholarships begins, the emphasis on winning can ratchet up. The object of sports is to win, isn’t it? Yet research shows that 70% of kids quit sports before their teens because it’s no longer fun. If we as parents can think outside the box to all the greater benefits and fun of contributing to a team and developing relationships, we’ll help our kids to value sports beyond winning. A focus on winning breeds a lot of anxiety as well. Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak speaks about how working with a therapist on his anxiety helped him have a mindshift. During the 2016 Olympics he thought, “I’m going out there with the intention of doing nothing more than I can do in that moment and be proud of that, and happy with that.” Now that’s inspiring!
Why not personally consider these ideas for being your best self and having fun in the sport of your life, too? Unleash your kids’ and your own positive possibilities!
Gail Siggelakis is a Robbinsville resident. Her column “Unleash Your Positive Possibilities” appears on the first Monday every month and remains up throughout the month to give readers positive thoughts and concepts to consider in their own life. Gail Siggelakis is the award-winning author of The Affirming Way of Life: See the Good, Speak the Good, Spread the Good. She is a speaker, blogger, and professional coach. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her websites https://theaffirmingway.com/ and www.uppcoach.com. For more about isport360, click here.