Sports: when a stress reliever turns into the stress producer
UW Nursing Student: Brianne Arnold

In high school I played sports, my friends all did, it was expected but I still loved them. Freshman year I played volleyball, basketball and finished it up in the spring with tennis. Some of the year I played select basketball as well. Juggling the sports, school and a social life was a challenge. However, for the first two years management was not a problem. I didn’t know anything other than being busy, going from place to place. I would do homework on the car rides, and make it up on the weekends etc.

Everything changed my junior and senior year. Suddenly, the standards for school were ramped up, expectations were exceeding my ability. The added pressure of doing all the sports that I had once loved became overwhelming. I needed to set my priorities or risk falling apart.

Studies show playing sports can have a positive effect on the adolescents who participate in them. Some benefits to sports in general are increased cardiovascular health, better endurance, decreased stress, weight control and increases the likelihood of physical health in adulthood. With competitive sports also comes teamwork and self-esteem development along with discipline, perseverance, and character. Adolescents who participate in sports are more likely to have positive influences, such as coaches to guide them and are less likely to drop out of school, or use drugs and alcohol.

So, the question is, when does a good thing turn bad? Every teen is different, but in general when the pressure of winning becomes the primary focus, the fun of playing gets overlooked and the pressure mounts. The emphasis should directly reflect the character building aspects that playing in a sport creates; including positive attitude, receiving constructive criticism with graciousness, being tenacious, taking initiative and learning self-discipline. These qualities can be gained while winning and maybe even more so while losing.

Here are five things to keep in mind if you have a teen in a competitive sport.

1.) S-Support your teen. Check in before the sports season starts to make sure they still want to play. Continue checking in throughout the year to see how they are managing.
2.) P-Praise them on their strengths. Being in a sport has a strong link to performance, be their cheerleader and leave the critiquing up to the coach.
3.) O-Overview their schedule monthly to make sure they’re not over scheduled. They should have built in time for homework as well as down time to let off some steam.
4.) R-Recognize and emphasize the importance of the process of participation rather than the result of the game. Don’t linger on whether they won or lost, because in the end that is not what builds their character anyways.
5.) T-Take notice of increased stress. Decreased or increased appetite, sleep disturbances, head or stomachaches, depressed mood, and/or struggling academically can all reflect poor coping.
Sports are overall a positive activity for teenagers, it keeps them active, strengthens character and creates an environment filled with positive role models. If you and your teen continue dialog, have positive outlets for stress, strategically schedule, sports will remain a positive channel in your teens active lifestyle.

Here are some additional readings related to sports:

Are Youth Sports Too Stressful?
Handling Sports Pressure and Competition