Mental Health Public Health

Navigating the Pressure: Helping Young Athletes Manage Stress in Sports

A teenage boy with a frustrated expression looks out over the ocean.

Choose the health content that’s right for you, and get it delivered right in your inbox.

Millions of young people across the country participate in school and extracurricular sports. While regular exercise positively impacts our whole health — body, mind and spirit — being a student-athlete can still lead to high stress levels for your child.

Young athletes have added responsibilities and pressures, including working as a team, the desire to reach their fullest potential and learning to effectively manage their time between school and sports, and their family and social life.

5 Strategies to Help Your Young Athlete Thrive

Keep reading as Tina Gurnani, MD, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at AdventHealth for Children, shares five ways to help your young athlete manage their stress levels.

1. Minimize Sideline Commentary

“You may mean well, but sideline commentary during your child’s sporting event can be distracting and unhelpful while they’re trying hard to focus and keep their head in the game,” shares Dr. Gurnani. She continues, “Instead of offering guidance from the sidelines, perhaps wait to talk about the game until afterward when they’re in a less stressful environment. This can make a world of difference for your child’s state of mind.”

2. Manage Healthy Habits

It’s never too early to start teaching your child healthy habits. Busy young athletes may not always prioritize their health, but encouraging healthy habits can go a long way. Here are some areas to keep in mind:

Hydration

Does your child drink enough water? Adequate hydration has many benefits, including more energy, improved concentration and mood, improved physical performance, better muscle function and a healthier heart. Encourage your child to drink plenty of water and other hydrating beverages, like coconut water or electrolyte drinks.

Along the same line, keep tabs on your child’s caffeine intake. “While sodas, coffee and energy drinks are popular among school-aged children, especially in their teenage years, too much caffeine and other sugary beverages can negatively impact your child’s mental and physical well-being,” says Dr. Gurnani.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that approximately 73% of children consume caffeine daily. Dr. Gurnani advises, “Limit your child’s daily caffeine intake to 100mg — ideally even less — to minimize caffeine’s negative side effects.”

Nutrition

A balanced diet full of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and whole grains, is important for your growing child. If you have a tough time getting your child to eat certain foods, try new ways to incorporate those foods into their diet, like blending them into smoothies or pasta sauces.

“A diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals can lead to increased fatigue, brain fog and mood swings,” explains Dr. Gurnani. “If your child is already experiencing stress as a young athlete, ensuring they’re eating a well-balanced diet is one way to support their whole health.”

Sleep

Does your child get enough quality sleep each night? Teens should aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, and younger children may need even more. “In addition to promoting good physical health, a well-rested child is more likely to have stronger cognitive abilities and better manage their stress and any mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Gurnani.

3. Find a Hobby Outside of Their Sport

Encourage your child to form additional hobbies, outside of their love for sports, that they can turn to when stressed. They may discover a new-found love and a way to relax from stressful scenarios.

Here are some ideas for new, relaxing hobbies you can suggest:

  • Baking and cooking
  • Collecting items like stamps, magnets or stickers
  • Crocheting and knitting
  • Drama and theater
  • Drawing and painting
  • Embroidery and sewing
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Journaling
  • Photography
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Volunteering

4. Watch for Eating Disorders

Many children — females and males alike — experience some form of disordered eating. And young athletes are more at risk to develop an eating disorder. “If you notice a shift in your child’s eating habits or their weight, be on the lookout,” says Dr. Gurnani.

Warning signs and symptoms your child may have an eating disorder include:

  • Anxiety surrounding eating (saying “I’m full,” or “I’m not hungry,” a lot)
  • Avoiding meals
  • Binge eating
  • Eating in secret
  • Excessive exercising
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Looking in the mirror excessively
  • Fixating on perceived, but untrue, body flaws (calling themselves “fat”)
  • Forcing themselves to vomit and spending too much time in the bathroom
  • Missing one or more menstrual cycles (females)
  • Palpitations
  • Purging with laxatives
  • Restricting food or calorie intake
  • Using diuretics
  • Wearing oversized, baggy clothing
  • Weight loss

Your child’s primary care provider can offer advice and help you navigate ways to support your child if you’re concerned they may be suffering with an eating disorder.

5. Learn Post-Game Relaxation Techniques

Another way to help reduce your child’s sports-related stress is to take a breather after each sporting event and do something relaxing together. This could be anything from family movie nights to a routine post-game dinner at your child’s favorite restaurant.

Getting your child’s mind off their game can be particularly helpful after a stressful day.

Here to Support Your Child’s Whole Health

Young athletes have a lot on their plates, and navigating it all can feel overwhelming and stressful. We’re here to help you support your child’s whole health. To learn more or get connected, visit BeAMindleader.com.

Recent Blogs

Orlando Magic 35th Anniversary presented by AdventHealth sign on the outside of the Kia Center in Orlando, Florida.
Blog
Bring Back That Magic Feeling: The Mental Health Benefits of Nostalgia
A father and son look at a laptop together.
Blog
You’ve Got This: How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health During School Transitions
Blog
How Obesity Affects the Body
A young boy about to kick a soccer ball.
Blog
How to Help Your Child Process Disappointments in Youth Sports
Blog
Burnout in Youth Sports: How to Navigate Mental Exhaustion
View More Articles