Are You Putting Too Much Pressure on Your Athlete?

That is a question addressed by coaches, sports psychologists, and parenting experts across the internet. Their advice is no doubt sound and worth the read and probably lists clinical signs of pressure, such as loss of appetite, suffering grades, trouble sleeping, and sluggish game-time performance. If you are putting too much pressure on your child in youth sports, those expert insights are important to recognize, but from one parent to another, can we put aside that clinical talk for a few minutes? As a sports parent for 20 years, I’ve seen other signs--they are sneaky, subtle, and often misinterpreted--that could indicate that a child is just plain tired of the pressure.

Your child doesn’t want to talk about it

He may come home, throw his bag on the floor, and start playing video games, go to his room, or jump in the shower--without a word concerning the game or practice. And when you try to talk about it at dinner, his answers are short and apathetic. He may even get irritated at your questions or change the subject because he really doesn’t want to think about the game or practice. He’s tired of the stress and would rather think about something else. That silence, that unwillingness to talk about the sport, may really be his way of screaming “I’m under too much pressure!”

Your child shows no desire to improve

As soon as practice is over, he’s out of there as quickly as possible. When you suggest a quick game of one-on-one basketball after dinner, he refuses. If you offer him a camp that will help him improve his skills, he may say he doesn’t want to go. Yet when you ask if he really wants to play, he says yes. He does want to play, but he wants to play to have fun. He doesn’t want the stress or pressure that comes with it. He may be sick and tired of being pushed and prodded and prepared.

Your child is obsessed with improving

The flip side to a child who has no desire is a child who is obsessed with improving his skills. I’m not talking about a normal, healthy desire to become a better player, I’m talking about a kid who has taken it way too far and has no room for anything in his life but working on sports. He is in over-drive because he’s afraid of failing, of not being good enough. He feels pressured to excel.

The tricky part here is that you, as the parent, have to distinguish between dedication and obsession in your child.

Your child looks for reasons to get away and forget about it all

When my daughter was playing varsity basketball, she often looked for opportunities to take a break on the weekends and do something that had absolutely nothing to do with sports. I think that was her way of escaping the pressure. If she didn’t have those opportunities, she might have buckled under the burden, perhaps even quit, but she was smart enough to know she needed a break from the pressure. Needless to say, if your child looks for ways to get away from the pressure of sports, let him. In our desire to help our kids improve, we often push them to put in the extra time when really all they need is a little rest.

What You Need to Do:

Pay attention.

In order to see these symptoms, you must be paying attention. Don’t just assume that any of these behaviors are merely normal adolescent weirdness. Pay attention, listen to what is being said and what is not being said, to what your child chooses to do in his free time and what he is avoiding. If you see any of these pressure symptoms in your child, talk to your child, talk to their coach. Don't let your child become burnt out, or feel pressure to do something he or she no longer wants to do.

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