How to deal with return to sport anxiety

In this confusing time, it’s natural for our young athletes to be feeling anxious about returning to the court. We hope these tips, will help you to recognise these feelings, determine the cause, and help kids address and overcome that anxiety.

As our kids return to sport after being away from teammates and coaches for months due to COVID-19 lockdowns, anxiety and self-doubt will be natural. Not only are there new safety protocols in place that may seem confusing or intimidating, but it’s also a huge shift emotionally.

Acknowledge Feelings

It’s really important to recognise that your child’s feelings are valid. For months, kids have been told that they can’t play with their mates, attend a school or go to training without risking themselves and their loved ones, but now that’s all about to change and this can be confronting for our young players. As more and more activities reopen, it doesn’t leave our young athletes with much time to process their feelings. While some are excited to get back on the court, there are many that are nervous or anxious and that’s completely understandable. We need to normalise those feelings by sitting down and talking about it.

Anxiety And Where It Stems From

Before you can help your child figure out how to deal with the anxiety around returning to play, it’s important to understand what’s causing these feelings. There are a few primary causes.

Not feeling like they’re “up to speed” or that everyone else would have advanced skill-wise over the break. Remind your child that everyone on the team, in fact, across the country is likely to be having the same feelings. Encourage them to think of ways to help them feel more confident and point out that all the skills they have gained over the seasons are still there. Spending a few minutes helping them practice in the backyard to remind them that they can still dribble/pass/shoot/catch will make a huge difference.

Seeing teammates for the first time in months.

While adults are unlikely to feel the stress of seeing friends again, friendships can be more complicated for younger kids, especially in pre-teen and teen years. Your child may have been completely out of touch with teammates during this time, so it’s understandable that they might feel some nerves around seeing teammates again. If there’s time before the first practice, encourage your child or ask the coach to set up a video or group chat with a team. Catching up with a couple of friends may help ease the way back into a bigger social scene.

Worrying about illness and COVID.

Your child has been hearing about the dangers of coronavirus for months now and has learned that staying safe means staying away from people. For younger kids in particular, it’s entirely possible that they could have developed an unhealthy amount of anxiety and worry around germs and getting sick. Discuss things that your child can do to feel safer, like using a mask or carrying hand sanitiser. If the coach hasn’t communicated any new Covid etiquette around social distancing and mask use etc, reach out to coach or club to get a list. Having tangible steps to increase safety may help ease your child’s (and you’re) mind.

Taking on parental anxiety.

During the coronavirus crisis, parental stress and anxiety have been heightened, kids are attuned to parental emotions, meaning if you’re anxious about your child returning to sport, they will likely feel the same way. While you may not be able to change your feelings of stress or anxiety, try to find a spark of excitement about your child’s return to play. Maybe this is a chance for you to get in a walk/run or some quiet time in the car. If you can come up with a few positives about practice restarting, it will help your child feel excited as well.

Take Them to Training, Regardless

Training sessions and games might not look the same for a year or more, and for our teens especially this time can be tricky and lead to a lack of motivation. If you have a child who doesn’t feel ready to return due to anxiety around being back with teammates it’s important that you validate and talk about those feelings, but try to get then to training.

Avoidance is only band-aiding the problem not solving it. You can opt to tell your child that you’re going just to watch but make sure you communicate how your child is feeling with the Coach and once there, they’ll most likely jump on board quickly.