We all get nervous before high-pressure situations, and competition is definitely one of the most intense situations we will experience. Think back to when you were a kid playing sports and how nervous you got before a game or a meet. It’s highly likely that your child is experiencing those same feelings. There are many ways you can help your young athlete prepare for athletic competitions, from sending them to IMG Academy, one of the best tennis camps in the nation, to providing them with coping methods or just being someone they can vent to about their nervousness.
Here are some strategies for helping your child prepare for athletic competitions:
Get enough sleep: A good night’s rest is always essential for optimal performance, no matter what age we are. And, children especially need a lot of sleep. Ensure your child gets to bed at an appropriate time before their competition, and even consider getting them on a regular sleep schedule so that their body becomes accustomed to their pre-game bedtime.
Eat a well-balanced meal: What your child should (or should not) eat before a competition may vary depending on what sport they play. Make sure they have a nutritionally-balanced meal, and be mindful of any diet recommendations that their coaches or trainers may have provided you with.
IMG Academy Nutrition Coach Emily Pace explains, "In order to play in your team’s game, you must have your entire uniform. Without your uniform, you would not be able to help your team succeed. Your meals should include a lean protein, a whole grain carbohydrate and a vegetable to help you compete at your best. When athletes do not eat well-balanced meals, it will potentially interfere with their ability to perform well.”
Teach your child stress-reducing techniques: Everyone is different, and the stress-reducing techniques that work for each individual will vary. Experiment with deep breathing, muscle relaxation, visualization, mindfulness, and positive self-talk. And, then encourage your child to use whichever combination of these techniques they find helps them get into the right state of mind to compete.
- Deep breathing: Take a deep breath, hold it in for about five seconds, and then release slowly. Repeat five times (or however many times feels necessary.)
- Muscle Relaxation: Contract a group of muscles tightly, hold for about five seconds, then release. Repeat five times, and then move on to another muscle group.
- Visualization: Visualize serving the ball, making a shot, or finishing a race.
- Mindfulness: Focus on the present moment instead of worrying about what has happened or what is to come.
- Positive self-talk: Use positive statements. “I am prepared for this match” rather than “I am afraid of losing this match.”
Have a routine: Going through the same routine before every competition can provide a sense of calm and keep stress in check. Prepare the same meal or snack prior to a game, keep uniforms and equipment in the same place, listen to the same songs on the way to the event, and so on. Routine is comforting and can also help your child get into the right state of mind to compete.
Part of a good routine includes fueling. “Athletes tell me all the time they have a hard time getting up for breakfast. As an athlete, breakfast must be included in your daily routine to begin fueling for performance,” notes Coach Pace.
Be prepared: Prepare for the unexpected by bringing backup uniforms, socks and underwear, snacks, equipment, and anything else you can think your child might need. They may need a dry change of clothes if it rains, or they may need a snack if their game is delayed, and they get hungry. You’ll also improve at being prepared as your child continues to compete and you experience firsthand those unexpected situations.
Coach Pace adds, “Just like you prepare for practice, you should prepare to fuel yourself properly before, during and after competition. Basketball players must have their shoes to be successful at practice. Carrying your water bottle with you to school allows you to effectively hydrate throughout the entire day.”
Ask your child what level of interaction they want from you prior to a competition: Does your child want to talk about the impending competition with you? Or, would they rather be alone with their thoughts to prepare? Everyone gets ready for stressful situations differently, and our kids are no different. Well-meaning pep talks or advice prior to a competition could actually elevate your child’s stress, so be mindful of how they react to your interactions with them prior to their game or meet.
Be supportive, but don’t coach: If your child is okay with interaction from you prior to competing, make sure it’s supportive interaction and not viewed as coaching. It is the job of your child’s coach to do the coaching, and it is your job to be supportive and encouraging. Just make sure your child knows that you love them and that you’re happy to be watching them play.
Have fun: Let’s not forget that playing sports should be fun for your child, and it should be fun for you to watch them! If you are relaxed and excited on their game or meet days, your child’s mood is likely to follow suit.
It isn’t solely your job as a parent to teach your kid how to prepare for competition, and that is why IMG Academy offers one of the best tennis camps in the country, along with camps and a boarding school program for many other sports. But, these skills do start at home, so it’s good to know how to help your children be as prepared as possible for great mental and emotional health when they are competing!