Anxiety, Sports, Young Athletes and Life

No one wants or likes to talk about it. For some it’s their darkest secret.

It makes them do or say things that is out of character or off the wall.

We have all experienced it at one time or other, but it’s the people that confront it every day and not say anything that need help.

They need our help, they need everyone’s help and advice to cope with living with severe anxiety. Obviously, in 2021 everyone knows what anxiety means, but now more than ever it’s time that everyone in the sporting world talks about anxiety.

Talk is cheap, but now’s the time that we all take a second and change up the question from “dealing with nerves” in high level or elite level sports to dealing with the crippling effects of anxiety.

Even in 2021 most of us are ill equipped with dealing and discussing anxiety.

I think back to my experiences in sport. I was a constant worrier, still am, which clearly isn’t healthy, especially when the dark thoughts surface. Those thoughts usually surface around value and being appreciated. You see as a kid or young athlete, all I wanted to do was to please and not let anyone down. You could say I played nervous my entire life. When I finally figured out there was no such thing as playing perfect I relaxed and played some of my best hockey, but that didn’t happen so enough.

You would think those lessons learned would transfer to other areas or sports. Let’s take golf for instance. In my competitive days I got it down to a 2.3 handicap. I was playing and practicing everyday, but the journey to somewhat scratch was truly amazing, yet truly terrifying. I can honestly say that I never really played relaxed or composed. I was always nervous or anxious over every shot. I just thought it was normal, something that only I dealt with. Doug Sullivan and I talked about it from time to time, he called it “the little man inside”. Well the little man inside was terrified. Hell I even coined the phrase PTP, which I referred to as Pre-Tournament Panic.

I often joked about it, but it was my way of discussing my nerves and feelings, but looking back on it now it was probably my way of asking for help. It was probably a cry for help.

You see anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. I’m no expert on the subject, but let’s just say I’ve seen my fair share of it.

I think we in the hockey world or sporting world need to discuss anxiety a lot more. We need to talk to players and they need to realize that talking about their feelings or thoughts isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.

We talk about resiliency and courage, and we want and expect more from young athletes, we want to see their character and their other intangibles on full display, but I don’t think we fully understand or realize the amount of pressure, stress and anxiety they actually experience.

“Oh we shouldn’t talk about that stuff, we don’t want them to start thinking about it.”

“Kids these days know too much for their own good.”

Statements like that provide barriers or road blocks to a young athletes thought processing and creates sporting robots.

Why can’t we talk about these things or why can’t we create an environment where’s it ok to discuss them?

It all goes back to being ill equipped. You see we are all ill equipped to deal with it or discuss it, until it’s too late. If we don’t create an environment where talking about mental health is open and free we will never truly be aware or help young athletes that are experiencing dark thoughts and feelings of anxiety.

I think the worse thing anxiety can do is remove or tear away all sensation creating empty numb athletic vessels.

We all need to do better talking about our insecurities and feelings.

We all need to open to discuss, but more importantly seek help for our dark thoughts, nerves or anxiety.

You can call it whatever the hell you want, when it comes down to it, it’s anxiety and it’s stealing the lives of so many that are trying to live with it every day.

For some they think its mind over matter and well within their wheelhouse or whelm to deal, cope and live with. For other young athletes, they are just drifting empty vessels searching for purpose and happiness within their sport and life. We need to fill those empty vessels with hope, we need to give them purpose and value. We need to lift them up and empower.

We need to ignore their behaviour or outbursts, we need to change the question from why are they acting this way to what is causing them to act this way.

We need to be more open and accepting to all athletes when it comes to mental health, especially when anxiety is involved.

Instead of questioning a player’s desire or drive we need to drill down deep. We need to seek out professionals in the field to talk to athletes about these experiences and feelings, but most of all we need to look in the mirror and confront our own thoughts, fears, worry and anxiousness.

Feeling uncomfortable or edgy is ok, feeling anxious or living on edge every single day not knowing what to expect next isn’t ok. If anxiety is crippling your every day experiences, you need help, you need to talk to someone. As coaches or anyone involved in the game of hockey we need to become more receptive of the thoughts, feelings and actions of the players.

No one wants or likes to talk about it. For some it’s their darkest secret.

It makes them do or say things that is out of character or off the wall.

We have all experienced it at one time or other, but it’s the people that confront it every day and not say anything that need help.

They need our help, they need everyone’s help and advice to cope with living with severe anxiety.

From the classroom, to the rink, to the golf course or any walk of life, one or the biggest take aways that I have learned is that you’re not alone, you’re never alone and that the more you talk about things the better and more manageable they become.

To the coach, please listen and observe your players, talk to them about everything not just hockey or their role on the team.

To the athlete, you’re never alone, reach out, talk to someone.

To the parent, you know your child better than anyone, trust your instincts, talk about everything involved in the game, ask the right questions, ask the tough questions at the right times.

To the fan, they are just kids, give them a break, ask yourself would you like someone talking, criticizing or yelling at your child that way,

To the media, let’s start telling stories that will make a difference rather than cutting down young athletes performances, let’s go deeper than just the ordinary surface shit like stats and the obvious, let’s tell the stories that will empower and inspire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.