How to deal with young players’ anxiety in sport
Social media. Lockdown. Exams. Peer pressure. Home life. Hormones. It doesn’t take an expert in mental health to know that anxiety can be commonplace amongst young people. But it does take an expert to analyse, explain, and treat mental health problems such as anxiety. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Team Mental Health to understand about anxiety in young players, so we can help you help the young people you coach.
It’s scary to think that 50% of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by 24 years old – and it’s on the rise. An important study that took place in England revealed that in 2021, nearly 40% of those aged between 6 and 16 years experienced a deterioration in their mental health.
Whilst there’s a lot going on at once when working with young players in sport and winning that match or ensuring athletes strive to be the best seems like the most important thing to focus on, we must face the fact that we could be dealing with young players with existing anxiety, or anxiety disorders. It could even be that these are developed in the context of their sport, due to performance stress, hectic training schedules, and competing priorities.
The good news is sport actually boosts mental health and the release of endorphins from being active helps to dissipate anxiety. Take it from Scottish teen and wheelchair user, Abby Cook, who has found the social and physical benefits of sport to be a huge contributing factor in managing her mental wellbeing.
Rugby charity Brave Mind couldn’t agree more. A quarter of rugby players experience poor mental health, and so they want to normalise talking about mental health and supporting one other. The charity works with schools and rugby clubs to put mental health right at the heart of the community and can be found in the ‘wellbeing area’ at the Festival of Sport in August. The fact there is a wellbeing area at a sports festival itself is testament to the hand-in-hand nature of physical and mental wellbeing.
Keeping stress out of pressure
There is a fine line between pressure and stress. Whilst pressure is not only useful but essential in competitive sport, stress most certainly isn’t. We all get stressed every now and then when the pressure gets too much to handle, but when left undealt with it can lead to an inability to cope, a feeling of fear and being overwhelmed, and outward displays of mental health problems, such as panic attacks. It’s about taking the trials and tribulations of sport and making it work for our young players, rather than allowing them to succumb to the dark side of distress.
‘Prevention is better than cure’; it’s an oldie but a goodie. And never is this truer when it comes to anxiety. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people seem a lot more open to talking about mental health, and it would be interesting to see how we fare if it all really kicked off again, now we’re this much wiser about mental health complications like anxiety, isolation, and depression.
We all underwent a collective trauma (which let’s face it, isn’t exactly ‘over’ yet) and the loss, restrictions, uncertainty, and angst over doing what was right or wrong left their mark. But beautifully, it now feels acceptable to talk about feeling anxious, and young people especially are wearing that badge with a sense of pride, following celeb wellbeing advocates on TikTok, YouTube, and more.
Your role to play in tackling anxiety
Dealing with Anxiety in Young Players, the eLearning course, has been written by Team Mental Health, top psychiatrists Dr Sile McDaid and Dr Libby Artingstall, who specialise in child and adolescent psychiatry. It’s packed with easy-to-digest scientific backing to first help you understand more about how anxiety and anxiety disorders affect the young players you are working with in your sport, then how to deal with them.
Libby and Sile will help you recognise the early warning signs of the different anxiety disorders that can occur, and as with many of eCoach’s courses, provide action plan templates to help you build a solid framework for your club or organisation’s setting to implement. Anyone who works with young people in sport (even parents and carers with sporty children) will take a great deal from this course, and as it is completed online, it can fit neatly into your existing schedule when and wherever you like.
By taking the course, you’ll soon have a clear understanding of:
- The difference between mental health and mental ill health
- What anxiety and anxiety disorders are
- The role that risk factors (such as genetics and poverty) and protective factors (such as exercise and nutrition) play in mental ill health
- The role of those working in the sporting environment with young players
- How to promote positive mental health and reduce the risk of players developing anxiety disorders
- When and how to signpost to specialist services when required.
Dealing with Anxiety in Young Players, the eLearning course is CIMSPA accredited and available to take now on Accelerate Sport. Just click here to find out more.
Written by Alice Gunn