• Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • MIND
  • /
  • Webinar Highlights: Parenting Athletes with Anxiety
Soccer Parent Values

Webinar Highlights: Parenting Athletes with Anxiety

We were recently joined by Ryan Defibaugh, owner of MBS Performance Counseling, and he discussed best practices for successfully navigating youth soccer for parents of children struggling with anxiety.

As more and more children are being diagnosed with anxiety, equipping parents with the information they need to successfully support their player is increasingly important.

Watch the highlights here. You can watch the full interview on our member site, SoccerParentResourceCenter.com. If you're not a member, click here to grab a free 3-day pass.

About Ryan:

Ryan Defibaugh, Owner and Counselor at MBS Performance Counseling, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), National Certified Counselor (NCC), and a Professional School Counselor. Ryan combines his counseling education with his experience in coaching to help young men and women realize their full potential and navigate the path to a fulfilling life.

Prior to opening MBS Performance Counseling, Ryan coached college athletics for both men and women at the Division I and III levels. Through the recruitment and coaching of elite individuals at Penn State University, Mount St. Mary’s University, and McDaniel College, Ryan was able to identify and compile key characteristics that led to mentally tough athletes and students. He teaches these skills to others by focusing on the core strengths of each individual; promoting purpose, optimism, resilience, and grit in to the life of each client at MBS Counseling.

Ryan received his Master’s Degree in Counseling Education from McDaniel College in 2011. In addition to his work at MBS Performance Counseling, Ryan works as a School Counselor in Frederick County, MD, is an Adjunct Graduate Professor at McDaniel College, and is a coach at Potomac Soccer Association in Potomac, MD.


Can you just sort of give us some insights on what your body goes through, what anxiety looks like in the body itself from a physiological standpoint?

Of course. And you're exactly right, we all experience a little bit different. So one of my questions too, I think it's all the time is, where do you notice it first? Is it physical? Is it mental? Like, do we notice our thoughts first, and then we have that physical response? Do we notice our stomach is kind of hurting, and then we start thinking, oh-oh? Do we feel the emotion first, and then we start thinking and then feeling? Like, I want to know that order. And I want to know where they feel it because a lot of times our emotions, our thoughts are difficult because we can't hold onto them. We know they're there, but we can't grab a hold of them and manipulate them like the other things like physical things in our lives.

So if we can put a picture to anxiety, where does it start? Where does it live within you? What does it feel like? So for example, one athlete says, "Oh, that knot in my stomach." Great. Now we can take that visual that we can talk about when that knot's tight. How do we loosen the knot? What are the strategies? And as we're using strategies like breathing and visualization, can you see that knot loosening? Can you feel that knot loosening? And it gives them something mental to hold onto. But think about ourselves when we're going through an anxiety response. Again, you'll hear me say perceived threat a lot. Anxiety is the response to a perceived threat. So when we have that perceived threat, whether it's oh-oh tryouts are coming up, oh-oh this is the championship game, oh-oh I don't want to let my team down, oh-oh am I good enough? That perceived threat triggers the release of cortisol.

Cortisol will send oxygen to all of our major muscles. And so think about the symptoms that we feel, our breathing rate goes up, right? Because our brain's priming our body to act. So either fight or flight. So thinking for, in the woods, and there's a bear coming on the path with us, perceived threat, oh-oh. We either need to punch that bear in the face, I don't think that's recommended or run away. Right? And so we need to be prepared for either one of those. Our body needs to act. So oxygen gets sent to all of our major muscles. Our breathing rate goes up, our heart rate increases. No longer on that path do we care about the color of the leaves or the bubbling brook or the view over the vista? We need to know where that bear is. So we become hyper-focused on the perceived threat.

But think about this with our athletes, they start getting that fast heart rate, their hearts start beating fast and they go, "Oh-oh, something's wrong with me. My heart's beating fast." You might notice they get really fidgety, maybe they're in the car and their legs are bouncing, and you see that. Again, that's because oxygen is being sent to all of our major muscles to prime us to act. A lot of times, if it's a mental or emotional threat to us, we can't go fighting something or running from it. We're kind of stuck in that moment. So we see that fidgety that antsiness, that jitteriness. Some, they can't think rationally, they're just stuck on like, "Oh-oh, what if, what if?" That's that anxiety loop. Because again, think about that bear. We need to know where it's at. Our brain needs to know where the threat is, so it gets hyper-focused on it. So it protects itself.

So things to do on the car ride to interactions that we can have with our children in those moments.

Yeah. So I want to focus on positives. I want to focus on what we can do and will do versus what might go wrong. So we really want to turn this into what our strengths. I am statements. So I'll work on with athletes on that. Like, let's come up with three things that you are, that you want to embody on the field. So for example, I am strong. Awesome. Okay. And then we break that down. What does strength mean to you? Because it's really cool to see them go through it. Because it won't just be physical, it will be, "Oh, I'm strong enough to recover from this. I can deal with this." It's awesome. There you are. You are strong.

So finding those traits that they can tap into that are strengths of theirs. And that's what we want to focus on the car ride. Because think if we go that don't look down, we're going to look down, right? So if we say, "Oh, don't be scared. Don't be this." Our brain goes, "Oh, should I be scared? What should I be scared about? Oh-oh something's there." So focus on strengths. We do a lot with visualization. Visualizing what we're going to see at the game, visualizing our success in the game. We tell athletes to play the game twice, once in their mind and once in person.

So what I'm kind of hearing from you is like, in the moment we can control as parents, how we act. But what we really need to do is juice some support and work with our child ahead of time. So that in the moment we have these strategies and things already in place so that we can implement them.

Very big on optimism and optimism doesn't mean blind positivity, or everything's going to be perfect. When we break down optimism, when we look at real quick, like I can create change, change is possible, my actions can create change. I'm not going to go into all the pieces, I'll stop on this one. And setbacks are temporary. So when we look at setbacks are temporary, that's a huge one. That's what really drives me towards optimism because that ties right into resilience. I saw someone ask a little bit more about resilience. So we know that setbacks are temporary. A mistake on the field is temporary. A loss is temporary. A bad grade in school is temporary. Okay. That opens up the door to say, "Well, now what do I do? What's next?"

Looking for More? We have the full interview available at SoccerParentResourceCenter.com. Grab a free 3-day pass here.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Related Posts

Skye Eddy

Founder, SoccerParenting.com
Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF "B" License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.