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performance anxiety

Performance Anxiety: Supporting our Athletes with Dr. Brad Miller

Dr. Brad Miller
Soccer Resilience

Skye Eddy
Founder, Soccer Parenting

Anxiety, specifically performance anxiety, is a real problem for many youth players. The good news is parents can help. Clinical psychologist and former college player, Dr. Brad Miller, has some practical tips to help children. 

Enjoy the short excerpt of our recent webinar below. If you would like to see the full version, click here for a free three-day pass to the SoccerParentResourceCenter.com.

About Dr. Brad Miller:

Dr. Brad Miller, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist, has spent over 20 years helping youth and adult athletes grow their ability to control their performance anxiety and stress, to persevere and improve their overall sports performance. Brad played at Wake Forest University (1989 ACC Champion), and as a lifelong soccer player, coach and parent, he knows a thing or two about the game.

ADVICE FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH A DIAGNOSED ANXIETY DISORDER

You know that your son or daughter has some anxiety, and that's absolutely going to impact them when they're playing in a training. And you want to talk to the coach and you don't quite know how receptive the coach may be.

Some coaches are open and receptive and maybe even have their own kids who've gone through some struggles and so they can be very helpful. Some are not, and may directly just go to your son or daughter and say, "So, you get anxious, huh? Don't worry about it. You're a good player, you're fine." And that's just not going to be helpful. So I think you just want to really know.

But as far as talking to the coach, if you have a coach who's receptive, then I think it can be very helpful, and just explain to them. You can start with asking the coach and say, "Do you know much about anxiety disorders? Is that's something you're familiar with or not?" And if they're not, then say, "Here's some things," and you help educate them a little bit on what that is.

And then saying, "This is how it affects my daughter," and say, "You may look at my daughter and never notice. She may look calm, composed, no problem. But inside she really is going to overthink, she's going to think things a lot. So it just means if you give a negative comment to her, she's maybe someone who really latches onto it and is going to think about it over and over and over, and when she goes to bed and when she wakes up. So, I want you to still coach her like the other people, but just be aware of the words you use. And she may really respond better to encouragement.

ADVICE FOR PARENTS WHEN A COACH MAY NOT SEEM TO BE ACTING IN THE CHILD'S BEST INTEREST

A parent can talk to their son or daughter, and just to really talk to them almost like you would if the teacher was doing those things. Just say, "Hey, I noticed during the game when you made a mistake and your coach yelled. What did you think about that? How'd that feel for you? Do you think your coach had any other things he could have done differently? Why do you think the coach said that to you?.

Sometimes, even as adults, when we get upset and we flip our lid we sometimes say and do things that aren't really helpful. So your coach wants you to do well, you work hard in practice, and sometimes he or she can get really frustrated. So you know that's not about you, right? That's about your coach, that they're just having a tougher time. Sometimes adults have challenges with their emotions just like we do.

And the parent might say, "Is there a signal I could give you, just like a thumbs up, that lets you know that I'm with you and everything's okay, and I know your coach is really not being as helpful, but I love you and I'm with you and I think you're working hard out there?"

ON PLAYING WITH PURPOSE

When you have a deep, meaningful purpose, we know that you will outlast, outperform those who don't. Your team needs you, your team needs you to keep trying, your team needs you to do this. When you really harness that purpose, it helps that player not be as stressed and overwhelmed. 

TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:
Dealing with children who are anxious, have a physical diagnosis of anxiety from a physician, how can you sort of advocate for your child with a coach without revealing this specific diagnosis they have?

Brad:
It's a really tough dilemma. You know that your son or daughter has some anxiety, and that's absolutely going to impact them when they're playing in a training, and you want to talk to the coach and you don't quite know how receptive the coach may be, one, and they don't want the privacy. So I think that a lot of things, the answer is, it kind of depends. So I think you really want to know your coach. Some coaches are open and receptive and maybe even have their own kids who've gone through some struggles, so they can be very helpful. Some are not and may directly just go to your son or daughter and say, "So you get anxious, huh? Don't worry about it. You know what? You're a good player, you're fine." And that's just not going to be helpful. So I think you just want to really know.

But as far as talking to coach, if you have a coach who's receptive, then I think it can be very helpful in just explaining to them, you can start with asking the coach and say, "Do you know much about anxiety disorders? Is that's something you're familiar with or not?" And if they're not, then say, "Here's some things," and you kind of help educate them a little bit on what that is. And then saying, "This is how it kind of affects my daughter." And say, "You may look at my daughter and never notice. She may look calm, composed, no problem. But inside, she really is going to overthink. She's going to think things a lot. So it just means if you give a negative comment to her, she's maybe someone who really latches onto it, and is going to think about it over and over and over when she goes to bed and when she wakes up. So I want you to still coach her like the other people, but just be aware of the words you use, and she may really respond better to encouragement."

Skye:
What suggestions do you have for parents to try to support kids that are dealing with situations where coaches are not acting in their best interest?

Brad:
So I think just if I was talking, a parent can talk to their son or daughter and just to really talk to them, almost like you would if a teacher was doing those things. Just say, hey, I noticed during the game when you made a mistake and your coach yelled and said, what are you doing Miller? What'd you think about that? How'd that feel for you? Do you think your coach had any other things he could have done differently? Yeah. Why do you think the coach said that to you? Oh, because your coach wanted you not to make a mistake. Okay. It's pretty reasonable, right? It makes sense. Coach doesn't want you to make mistakes. Okay. Do you think the way the coach responded was helpful to you? Yeah, not so much. Do you think it would be helpful to most people? So that's kind of a challenge for your coach.

Sometimes even as adults, when we get upset and we flip our lid and use that language, then we sometimes say and do things that aren't really helpful. So your coach wants you to do well, you work hard in practice and sometimes he or she can get really frustrated. So you know that that's not about you? That's about your coach. That they're just having a tougher time. And sometimes adults have challenges with their emotions just like we do. So when your coach says that, what do you think in your mind? Do you agree with them inside your head and go, yeah, I'm horrible, I'm awful, I'm letting the team down. Or do I just think, boy coach is really too mad? Is there a signal I could give you, just a thumbs up that lets you know, you know what I mean? That I'm kind of with you and everything's okay and I know your coach is really not being as helpful, but I love you and I'm with you and I think you're working hard out there?

Yeah, how about just a thumbs up? Could just be like this, right? And if the kid looks over and you do this and they kind of go, okay, whatever might just help reassure them. But I think just helping them understand it doesn't mean a coach is a bad person, just means they're not managing their emotion well. But when you have a deep meaningful purpose, we know that you will outlast and outperform those who don't. And a lot of people kind of go, I don't know, it's kind of fun, like my teammates, and if they can dive in a little bit deeper and really kind of harness and say, I'll just give an example, for me, I was a very team-oriented player, and so I really wanted to help my team. That was really, really important to me.

And so if that was what was so important to me, I didn't do this when I was a player, but if someone had talked to me, I would have said yeah and that would've really helped me I think when those times were tough because it's like, do this for your team, your team needs you. Your team needs you to keep trying, your team needs you do this. If you really kind of harnessed that purpose, it helps that player not be as stressed and overwhelmed because when I get that way I'm like, no, no, no, I'm doing this for a reason. This is what it is. And so when that purpose is not performance-based, it's not about goals and assists and shutouts and playing time and minutes played and accolades, because that really creates that performance identity, which is not a helpful purpose, but more of sort of a purpose that's about meaning for them. And if it includes a team, then we know that purpose is even stronger and helps them be even more resilient.

Skye:
What would be your suggestions for parents who have kids that just want to be in the game all the time?

Brad:
Yeah, I think when there's a genuine love and enjoyment of that and it's just really fun for them. They're like, I really feel stimulated. I like the challenge. I want to go play on this blitz all team. Or yeah, I'm going to go play over here. I'll guest play in a tournament. When there's really more kind of joy-driven, when that's really something that they like, I think there's a lot of benefit in that. I still would want to just say, "Hey, I noticed you haven't really spent much time with your friends this weekend." You know what I mean? So try to give them a balance. So I would encourage parents to just talk about those kind of things and say that sometimes you might not have a tournament, sometimes you might not have those things to go to. You might have an injury.

And so when you do, it's really important you have additional things that help bring you joy. Let's experiment. So trying to help your kid find maybe a friend who maybe likes to do something else. Oh, so-and-so likes to go skateboarding. Oh, why don't you go to skateboard with your friend? I don't know how to do it. Well you can kind of learn, hang out, you like Joe. It'd be kind of nice to do. So I really do think it's important at an early age just to let them know and let them know that a lot of pros have balance too. They do things outside of that.

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

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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.

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