Pressure is part of all sports and its impact in kids’ sports is something we need to carefully evaluate. The spotlight is brightest in baseball; there is simply no place to hide. For the pitcher, batter, catcher and anybody the ball is hit to, all the attention of parents and peers is riveted on that player. In soccer, basketball or other sports, it’s easy enough to “blend in”, but not in baseball. I have tremendous respect for every kid who takes the risk and goes out to play ball – especially the kids who are not as talented; it’s not easy. Is there simply too much pressure put on kids to early? I don’t think so. As we evaluate the physiological aspects of pressure, the kid’s psychology, our own beliefs, and effective ways to deal with pressure, I’ll let you know why.
Understanding Each Kid – There are genetic, constitutional, and other factors that influence the pressure an individual will feel in any situation and their reaction to that stress. Some of us may have been born "nervous", “happy”, “emotional”, or even "grouches." Almost certainly we are by nature prone to be shy or outgoing, and we also inherit a propensity for certain psychological effects, including our reaction to stress. So, we have to expect that each Kid will be impacted by and deal with pressure situations differently. It is imperative to judge each child as an individual.
The easiest thing to do is very simple – just ask the kids. You may be surprised at how honest the answers will be. Here are some questions to try:
1. When the game is tied and you’re playing in the field, do you want the ball to be hit to you or would you prefer that the ball is hit to one of your teammates?
2. If your team is losing by one run in the bottom of the last inning, the bases are loaded, and there are two out, do you want to be at bat?
3. If you’re on deck in the same situation, do you want your teammate to win the game or do you want a chance to get to the plate?
4. Would you prefer your teammate make the last out of the game so that you don’t have to bat with the game on the line?
Projection of Parents, Friends and Relatives – Projection is one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud and still acknowledged today. According to Freud, projection is when someone is threatened by or afraid of their own impulses so they attribute these impulses to someone else. I know many parents who prefer their kids not come to bat in a tough situation just in case their kid makes the last out. While this is very easy to understand since we all want to protect our children, it often isn’t the kids feeling the pressure, but the rest of us.
Dealing With Pressure – One misconception though with performing under pressure is that stress always has a negative connotation. Many times, "the stress of competition may cause a negative anxiety in one performer but positive excitement in another". That is why one frequently hears how elite players' thrive under pressure, when most others would crumble. As individuals, our nervous systems differ; however, according to Richard Dienstbier at the University of Nebraska, we may be able to modify our physiological reactions by learning coping skills. Not surprisingly, exercise and sports participation are commonly considered as activities to reduce stress from other areas in life. However, if a child is feeling pressure while playing sports, here are some solid stress relief techniques they can employ:
1. Visualization – Before a game, visualize yourself in stressful situations and dealing with them successfully. During the game, you can remember back to how you’ve already dealt with this situation and are mentally prepared for it, visualization is simply a shorter version of meditation.
2. Breathing – If a kid is feeling stressed during a game, feeling less anxious can often be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. Deep breathing is a very effective method of relaxation. It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscular Relaxation, relaxation imagery and meditation to reduce stress.
Conclusion - A lot has been made of the impact of pressure in youth sports and the negative impact, but much of this is simply projecting a parent or relative’s individual beliefs on the situation. While you can argue that I’m doing the same thing, but in reverse, I in fact take a different position which is: 1) to acknowledge that pressure does exist, but 2) to determine how each individual kid can deal with the situation. Only by knowing each kid can you determine if the situation is, in fact, distress rather than an adrenaline producing pressure moment which the kid loves.
About The Author
Ken Kaiserman is the president of SportsKids.com, a leading youth sports website featuring games, sports news, sports camp and league directories, community features, hosts SportsKids.com Superstore with over 150,000 products. Ken coaches youth football, basketball and baseball. He also serves on the local little league board of directors as well as the Park Advisory Board.