Education Reduces Stress for Parents and Athletes
What can parents do to help combat performance anxiety? Parents are in an ideal position to help their young athletes develop healthy attitudes about achievement and an ability to tolerate setbacks when they occur. Research published in the Journal of Youth Development indicates that by educating parents, they can effectively reduce athletes’ competitive anxiety. Sport psychologists Frank Smoll and Ronald Smith are co-authors of the study.
“Over the last 20 years, there’s been a trend to teach coaches how to create a healthy psychological environment for young athletes. There’s also an important need to educate parents, so they can support and supplement what trained coaches are trying to do. Parents and coaches working together are a powerful combination.”
The University of Washington researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of coach and parent education in their study of 151 boys and girls playing in two different basketball leagues. The average age of the athletes was 11.6 years. Coaches in one league participated in a Mastery Approach to Coaching workshop developed by Smoll and Smith.
The workshop content emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. Parents participated in a companion Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports workshop that taught them how to apply mastery principles and how to reduce performance anxiety in their children. Coaches and parents in the second league (a control group) were not offered the workshops.
Preseason questionnaires showed little difference in the levels of performance anxiety among the boys and girls in the two leagues. However, by the end of the season, athletes playing for trained coaches and whose parents attended the workshop reported that their levels of stress, worry, and concentration disruption on the court had decreased. Players in the other league reported that their anxiety had increased over the course of the season.
“This combined approach helps both coaches and parents to create a mastery-oriented climate,” said Smoll. “We never ignore the importance of winning, because it’s an important objective in all sports. But we place winning in a healthy perspective. As a result, young athletes exposed to the mastery climate had less worries about their performance, and they were better able to concentrate while playing.”
“Fear of failure is an athlete’s worst enemy, and the sport situation can easily create this type of anxiety,” said Smith. “The encouraging thing is that educational programs for coaches and parents can give them the tools for decreasing pressure and increasing enjoyment. And an added bonus is that athletes who are not afraid of failure typically perform better. When coaches and parents are taught stress-reduction principles, they can be a winning combination for kids.”
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.
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