Sports Psychology for Kids Articles

Does Sports Psychology Work for Kids?

Eli Straw
Does Sports Psychology Work for Kids?

As a parent, you may be looking for ways to help your young athlete manage mistakes better, reduce anxiety, or increase confidence. In your search, you've likely come across the term sports psychology.

As a mental performance coach working in the field of sports psychology, I often get asked a lot by parents if sports psychology can work for kids, or is it only recommended for older athletes?

I consistently respond with the same answer: sports psychology can absolutely work for kids!

I've worked with many young athletes on building mental toughness by using sports psychology techniques. So I know it can not only be done, but that it can be effective as well!

And so, what I'm going to do in this article is go into detail on what sports psychology is, how the training works, and just how it works so well for kids.

Sports Psychology Defined

It's common for coaches, athletes, and parents to talk about how mental sports are. That, in order to be your best, not only do you need to be skilled physically, but you also need to have a strong mental game.

The field of sports psychology takes care of making sure that a strong mental game is in place.

For kids, sports psychology focuses on very similar skills as with older athletes. The reason being, the same skills will help a young athlete just as they will an older athlete.

And by learning and developing the skills sooner, the stronger the athlete's mental game will grow to be.

Sports psychology looks at an athlete and understands that the way they think plays a crucial role in how they feel while competing. And how they're thinking a feeling greatly influences their production on the field or court.

Not only their production, but their fulfillment, motivation, and self-esteem as well.

When an athlete, no matter their age, is dealing with a lot of sports performance anxiety, for example, their level of play will decrease. In addition, their enjoyment will also plummet.

I'm working with a young athlete right now who quit basketball due to the anxiety she felt while playing. She'd trained extremely hard and was more dedicated than most her age...but her anxiety led her to stop all of this.

Instead of playing basketball, she now plays volleyball and is thinking about taking up golf. This shows a common theme whenever an athlete is dealing with any kind of mental challenge: thinking changing sports or teams will solve the problem.

Yes, it may reduce the immediate impact of anxiety, but as she and I are working on, the underlying cause of anxiety must be managed.

This is the essence of sports psychology: using tools to increase performance, while also overcoming mental blocks and challenges that negatively impact the athletes mental health.

The combination of which leads to elevated play and more enjoyment in their sport.

How Sports Psychology for Kids Works

As a mental coach, my main focus is on the development of mental skills. I grew up as a baseball player, spending time training my physical skills along with strengthening my body.

Now as a mental coach, I apply a similar approach to sports psychology coaching.

With a young athlete, just as with an older athlete, the way sports psychology coaching works is by first gaining a good understanding of their current strengths and challenges.

By gaining this understanding, you can feel confident the appropriate tools and techniques are being applied to help them.

Once a baseline understanding is gathered, it's time to get to work on developing positive mental skills. But hold on a second...what if they are dealing with anxiety like that young athlete I mentioned earlier?

Well, here's the thing: I have found the most effective way of overcoming anxiety (or any other mental challenge for that matter) is focusing on building positive mental skills, not working through the anxiety.

Because when we talk and talk about how anxious they feel, they are only reinforcing the fact they're an anxious player.

Instead, if we work on strengthening their ability to calm their nerves, improve their focus, and increase their confidence, naturally anxiety will go away.

So thinking about how sports psychology works for kids, and most specifically, your young athlete, it's about gaining a baseline understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and then implementing tools and techniques to build positive mental skills.

How Sports Psychology Helps Kids

Now let's take a look at the main benefits kids can gain from sports psychology.

Improved Self-Awareness

A key factor in terms of controlling thoughts and emotions (so building self-control) is first developing self-awareness. This is where the athlete can recognize and understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and how they play into one another.

Without understanding what they're thinking at any given moment, a young athlete is going to have a difficult time changing their thoughts.

A great example of this is managing mistakes. This is something I work on a lot with young athletes, since it can oftentimes be difficult to not lose composure following a mistake in a game.

There are many tools we can use to help the young athlete manage the mistake and move on from it, but none of them will work if they aren't able to first recognize that they're upset and then work on applying the tools.

With sports psychology, your young athlete will build greater awareness that will lead to more self-control.

Increased Confidence

Building confidence in their kids is a goal many parents have, and it's one you likely have. Because you know the more confident your kid is, the better they'll feel about themselves and the greater the chances are they'll succeed.

With sports psychology, a young athlete will increase their confidence because they will first gain a clear idea of where their confidence comes from.

If, for instance, the belief they have in themselves relies too much on positive comments from others, we realize that how confident they feel is not truly within their control.

Instead, if the young athlete learns how to build confidence by focusing on their strengths and using tools like visualization, they increase their confidence and it becomes much more stable. Since how confident they feel is becoming more in their control.

Better Self-Control

Going along with the self-awareness I mentioned a second ago, as the young athlete understands themselves better, they grow to control themselves better.

This is seen mostly following mistakes and in the midst of frustrations during games.

Through sports psychology tools and techniques, the young athlete strengthens their ability to control their thoughts. Knowing emotions stem from thinking, by changing their thoughts, the young athlete is in essence gaining control over their emotional reactions.

Another example of sports psychology helping your kid improve their self-control is leading into a game.

By learning what type of mindset they need to perform their best, along with tools to get them into such a mindset, the young athlete gains control over the state they're in leading into a game.

Improved Mental Health

Mental health, like physical health, often captures our attention when things go wrong. All of a sudden mental health becomes important when the young athlete is struggling with intense fear or anxiety.

That's good, because in that situation, something needs to be done. But even before that, the athlete can take a more proactive approach to their mental health.

With sports psychology, your young athlete will experience better mental health because they will learn tools and techniques to build positive mental skills and healthier ways of thinking.

Increased Enjoyment in their Sport

With kids, while there is a level of competitiveness present, the most important thing is for them to enjoy themselves. And you know what the best part is...when they enjoy themselves, they play better!

A major reason sports psychology works for kids is because of the fun it brings back into the game.

When they play with more confidence, they have more fun. When there's less anxiety present because the young athlete has learned to calm their mind going into a game, they're free to enjoy themselves more!

In addition, sports psychology teaches that in order to have more fun while playing, you need to look for reasons why you enjoy your sport.

If you're always focused on the negatives, of course you're not going to have much fun. But if you learn to focus more on what you do enjoy, all of a sudden the fun returns.

Getting Started With Sports Psychology for Your Kid

Knowing now that sports psychology not only works for kids, but can have an incredibly positive impact on their mental health and performances, how can you help them get started with training their mind?

Well, we have two great resources that can help.

One is The Mentally Tough Kid; a self-paced course that teaches your kid the 6 fundamentals of mental toughness, and guides them through exercises to begin building each skill.

The second is one-on-one mental coaching, where I will work directly with your young athlete to strengthen their mental game.

No matter how you get started, I highly encourage you to begin making sports psychology a part of your young athlete's training program.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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