Pressure in Youth SportsWritten by Ken Kaiserman
Pressure is part of all sports and its impact in youth sports is something we need to carefully evaluate. The spotlight is brightest in baseball; there is simply no place to hide. For pitcher, batter, catcher and anybody ball is hit to, all 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 risk and goes out to play ball – especially kids who are not as talented; it’s not easy. This is especially true for a young pitcher who controls every aspect of game. Is there simply too much pressure put on kids to early? I don’t think so. As we evaluate physiological aspects of pressure, kid’s psychology, our own beliefs, and effective ways to deal with pressure, I’ll let you know why.
What Is Stress? - Changes, such as sudden trauma, several big crises, or many small daily hassles, cause stress. The human body has different ways of responding to stress; one quick responding nerve-hormonal system involving adrenaline, another long-lasting system involving cortisol, and perhaps others. These systems not only determine intensity of our anxiety reactions but also our attitudes, energy level, depression, and physical health after stressful events are over. Stress can also be a source of energy that can be directed towards useful purposes. How many of us would study or work hard if it were not for anxiety about future? Life is a dynamic process and thus forever changing and stressful. Physiologic changes including an increased heart rate and blood pressure, faster breathing, muscle tension, dilated pupils, dry mouth and increased blood sugar all take place. In other words, stress can also be described as a state of increased arousal. Up to a certain point stress is beneficial. We can perform with greater energy and increased awareness with influx of excitatory hormones that release immediate energy.
Understanding Each Child – There are genetic, constitutional, and other factors that influence 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 child will be impacted by and deal with pressure situations differently. It is imperative to judge each child as an individual. Some kids are desperate to bat with bases loaded or pitch in a clutch situation. Does your child hope ball is hit to him so that he can make play or does hope it’s not hit in his direction so that he can’t make an error? My favorite Michael Jordan quote is: “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” You want to put kids into a position where they can succeed and to do that you need to understand who they are and how they are impacted by different pressure situations.
Another difference in children can be way that they act in team vs. individual sports. A friend of mine has a child who is a very good athlete and highly competitive in tennis and golf, but “disappears” in soccer and basketball. The psychology behind this is simply that this person is able to perform when she knows that it’s all up to her. However, she doesn’t want to be one who lets down team by missing a shot. On other hand, some children may react in just opposite manner and not want outcome to be totally determined by their own actions
The easiest thing to do is very simple – just ask kids. You may be surprised at how honest answers will be. Here are some questions to try:
1.When game is tied and you’re playing in field, do you want ball to be hit to you or would you prefer that ball is hit to one of your teammates?
2.If your team is losing by one run in bottom of last inning, bases are loaded, and there are two out, do you want to be at bat?
The Youth Sports CoachWritten by Ken Kaiserman
Coaching youth sports is a challenge. Most of our kids are really happy to have us step up to plate and coach and, despite time we give up, most parents find experience equally rewarding. However, there are some major things that every coach needs to do and understand before they start season: 1) coach with proper attitude; 2) coach with proper fundamentals; and, 3) learn and teach difference between “Dad Hat” and “Coach Hat”.
Coaching Right Attitude
We all love our kids and, let’s face it; we also love playing sports with our kids. For me, it’s way that I spend most of my free time and it is right up there as one of my favorite things to do. That being said, I also need to realize that statistically, none of kids that I coach will ever play professional sports, nearly all of them will not play sports in college, and many of them will not even play varsity sports in high school. So, what does this mean for us as a coach? We need to emphasize all other aspects of sports and life lessons that make us love playing game. Mostly, we need to make experience fun!
In 1988, Robert Fulghum wrote book “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten”. I’ve often told people that you can learn everything you need to know by playing sports – especially youth sports. Many of same lessons apply, but on an even bigger scale where kids learn success and failure, wining and losing, sportsmanship and teamwork, and how to respond in many pressure situations. None of these are easy lessons. Winning with grace is just as hard to teach as losing with dignity. How can you do this and make sure that everybody has a great season? That’s trick.
Every team you ever coach, especially teams with younger kids, will be split between kids that are talented and kids that are not. The goal that you have as a coach is to make sure that every one of those kids has a great experience and wants to play again next year. I take most pride in job I did as a coach when worst kid on team loves sport and keeps playing year after year. The way that I do this is to emphasize things other than on field performance – I try to stress effort, trying your best and hustle.
There are several practical things that you can do to emphasize these “other” characteristics. In basketball, for example, instead of emphasizing and keeping stats for scoring, keep stats on hustle, picks set, good defense, rebounds, filling a lane, or just being in right position. After every game, point out something positive that every kid did during game. Award a point for each time a kid does something you emphasize and give stars or sew on patches when points are accumulated. You’ll see that these kids will do anything to get a star on their uniform, even pay attention in practice!
Coaching Right Fundamentals
Kids of any age can learn to do things properly. They may not have motor skills developed yet, but they can at least try to do it right. One of my favorite misconceptions is that “practice makes perfect”. That’s totally wrong; practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes PERMANENT. What I try to teach is: “Perfect Practice Makes Permanently Perfect”. That’s a pretty big difference!