Dispelling Nerves in your Players
Athletes at every level get nervous before competition. There will always be nerves and tension when the pressure of competition is mounting.
For young athletes especially, it is important they have a coach ready to calm their nerves as game time approaches.
How a coach of a youth sports team responds to pressure and calms his team can often make a big difference in the outcome.
Noticing Nerves and Being Proactive
It’s pretty simple, the biggest way to help your athlete’s nerves is to be observant and actually recognize when they are shaky.
“If you see a kid, particularly a leader of the team, getting tense and loose and doing things they wouldn’t normally do, making a bad pass, or swinging at high strikes, or anything different than their normal behavior, that’s probably anxiety coming in,” says Taylor Smith, a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance Leadership Council, and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
As their coach, you should be able to recognize when your players aren’t playing up to their normal standards.
Once you have identified a player who is dealing with nerves, you have to decide what the best course of action is to help them deal with their anxiety. This will clearly vary player to player, but knowing their Athlete Type can certainly be a huge help in knowing how they are wired.
“Loosen them up, tell them they don’t have to carry the team. Ask them what’s going on. ‘I saw you swing at that high pitch, that’s not like you, what’s going on?’ Don’t make it a negative, just let them know that you see that there’s a difference in their behavior,” says Smith. “That oftentimes helps them, in that moment to realize that somebody else sees that’s going on and that somebody else cares.”
“Just that little bit of caring can be amazing for, especially the younger kids,” says Smith. “Even the middle school and high school kids, you show them you have a little bit of caring about what they’re going through in this moment, it’s going to mean a lot to them.”
Preparing for a Big Game
There are going to be times in youth sports where your team is a major underdog or have a huge game coming up against a rival team.
In his book The Power of Double-Goal Coaching, Jim Thompson describes how coaches can prepare their young athletes for big games, where anxiety and nerves are likely at their highest levels.
Thompson says that when stakes seem high, coaches will be more focused on a win, but to keep their team lose, reminding them to have fun is key.
Here are a couple of tips Thompson on how to deal with your player’s stresses heading into a big game:
- Encourage them to have fun. ‘The pressure is on them. Everyone expects them to win. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have fun going all out!’
- Remind them of their preparation. “You’ve worked hard all week. We have a plan, so let’s focus on doing what we know how to do.”
- Nervous is normal (and good!). “How many of you are nervous today? Good! If you weren’t, I’d be worried that you didn’t care about today’s game. I’m glad you’re nervous. Now let’s use that energy to play our game today.”
- Pressure is a privilege. “We’re lucky we get to play in a big game! Many people go through their entire life without experiencing what we’ll experience today. So let’s give it our best effort and have fun while we’re at it!”