#121: Helping The Anxious Athlete Stop Overthinking And Start Playing With Confidence W/ Sami Halvorsen

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Have you ever tried to help your athlete daughter with overthinking and anxious thoughts? In today’s episode, we’re talking about how you can help her stop overthinking and start playing with confidence.

Today, we’re joined by Sammy from the Teen Life Coach School podcast. Sammy is a teen life coach and she works specifically with teens that experience anxiety. This means that she helps teens manage anxiety, stop overthinking, become more self-confident, and start loving who they are. Sammy also offers tangible strategies for parents to help support their teen athletes if they struggle with anxiety.

Anxiety is good, until it’s not. 

  • Anxiety turns bad when it becomes debilitating, and it starts to hold a teen back from doing the things that a normal teen would do.
  • Some tell signs of anxiety turning bad are things such as avoiding their friends, avoiding going to school, and avoiding activities they previously loved.
  • When teens start to live their lives around their anxiety instead of confronting their anxiety, that is when it becomes a problem. At that point, the anxiety they’re experiencing starts to win in their lives.

Our goal is not to live life completely free of anxiety and stress because at times, these things can be tools that help us in certain situations. But we don’t want the levels of anxiety or stress that our teens face to be debilitating to them or alter the way they live their lives.

The threshold for anxiety and stress is different for every teen, and it can also be different at different times in our lives. The threshold can depend on the circumstances and events that are occurring inside and outside of our control. Anxiety thresholds are specific to each individual.

So, how can we define anxiety? 

  • Anxiety is uncertainty about the future.
    • For example, if a teen has a competition coming up, the uncertainties they could be facing are questions like, “How am I going to play? Are my teammates going to be mad at me? Am I going to mess up? Are we going to win or lose? Am I going to be a disappointment? Are my parents going to be mad at me?” The questions could go on and on.
    • Anxiety can be uncomfortable because it also comes with physical symptoms. Everyone experiences the physical symptoms of anxiety differently, too. And the physical symptoms we experience don’t feel good. 

So, how do we help athletes navigate anxiety, both physically and mentally? 

  • First, we can help them recognize that what they’re experiencing is anxiety. 
    • Start by labeling the emotion.
    • If we can label the emotion as anxiety, then we can start to understand what’s going on. We no longer have to be anxious about not knowing what’s going on. 
  • Second, realize that overthinking can increase anxiety and think through those thoughts fully.
    • By human nature, our brains love to jump to all the potential worse case scenarios.
    • So, actually walk through the worst case scenario that your mind has come up with – what’s the worst thing that can happen?
      • For example, “My coach might yell at me” or, “I might let my team down” or even, “I might get pulled from my position.” And the list could go on. 
      • So, let’s say your coach does yell at you, then what? 
      • You might feel embarrassed, judged, etc. The worse case scenario almost always comes down to an emotion that we don’t want to feel.
  • Finally, teach your teen that they can handle the emotions.
    • Help your teen by helping them realize what that worst case scenario emotion is, and then teach them that they can face the emotion, and overcome it. 
    • If we practice feeling these emotions, over time this will build confidence. We get better at handling these emotions the more we face them.
    • Eventually, facing these emotions builds self-confidence over time, and eventually your teen will be able to “flex” their self-confidence muscle more than the anxiety muscle. 

Self-confidence comes from the ability to handle any emotion. Therefore, it’s important that your teen starts to face these emotions head on.

When we know our teen is overthinking, what can we do? 

  • To start, it’s important that your teen has predefined their core beliefs.
    • What this means is that It’s important that they understand what really matters to them, before they’re in a situation where they are overthinking. 
    • These can be ideas such as:
      • “My worth is not dependent on this game.”
      • “I know that I’m still awesome whether or not my coach yells at me.”
      • “At the end of the day, I know that I’m still loved by my parents.”
      • “No matter what happens, I can still love myself.”
    • If your teen can focus on these core beliefs, they can overcome their anxious thoughts, and they can know that they will be okay on the other side. 
    • Over time we can help them work to not tie their self-worth to the way they perform in their sport.

What role can parents play in all of this? 

  • One of the most important things for parents to remember is that the way your teen plays is not about you.
    • We’re tempted to rely on our kids’ behavior to make us feel good. 
    • For example, if our teen plays well, then we feel good.
    • But it’s so important to disconnect our feelings from the way our teen plays.
  • Another thing parents can be tempted to do is to step in and “fix it”.
    • But when we take a “fix it” approach, this can make our teen feel like the emotions they’re experiencing are “wrong”.
    • We don’t need to “rescue” our kids from their discomfort. Instead, we have an opportunity to teach them how to work through their discomfort.
    • There’s nothing “wrong” with your teen feeling anxious. Those are normal emotions that teens face.
    • Sometimes, parents try to distract their teen from what they’re feeling, they try to help them avoid their feelings, or sometimes they even accommodate their anxiety. But these methods actually make the anxiety worse. 

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that anxiety is a normal emotion. The more we’re afraid of anxiety, the more we feel we need to “fix” it. And the more we try to “fix it” rather than work through it, the more powerful anxiety can become. 

As a parent, your role is so important! You have an opportunity to help your teen understand that feelings of anxiety are normal, and it’s possible to work through the emotions and overcome them. And most importantly, we get to remind our teen that we’re there for them, we’ll walk through this with them, and we love them. 


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