Why Youth Athletes Need Sport Psychology Services

October 21th, 2021

Why Youth Athletes Need Sport Psychology Services

Written by Neva Barno

An estimated 45+ million youth play sports in the United States. Each year, 35% of youth athletes quit, and just by the age of fifteen, 70-80% of youth athletes will no longer play. These are alarming numbers considering we often put our children in sport for fun, positive experiences, activity, and for the benefits that we know sport can give you (Merkel, 2013). The reality of youth athletics is the playing field is highly competitive and high pressure. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only 1-3% of athletes (depending on the sport) will transition from high school athletics to Division 1 athletics.

To be in the top 3%, physical training is usually prioritized for youth athletes. Parents will hire personal trainers outside their sport and send their children to summer camps. Physical training is important for building skills, but individuals often forget the importance of mental skills training, which I firmly believe is the missing piece to a child’s athletic career. Answer this: What percentage of performance is physical versus mental? Most people will answer this question and say that it is over 50%. Many former athletes and performers would argue that it’s closer to 90%. Whatever percentage you chose for mental performance, my next question is: is your youth athlete putting in the mental work to reach that percentage? There is no doubt that if you have a youth athlete, aiming for an elite level, that psychology will play a role in keeping them on target and overcoming obstacles, especially when they are juggling sport and school. Youth athletes are also less mature than senior athletes, which means they need different types of assistance (Henriksen et al., 2019).

There are many ways that sport psychology practitioners (SPP) can aid youth athletes. In my professional career, youth athletes greatly benefit from sport psychology by increasing their confidence, decreasing their fear, and learning how to take risks. Most SPPs will emphasize many of the following strategies: self-talk, imagery, goal-setting, mindfulness, pre-performance routines, career planning, energy management, self-awareness, and self-regulation for youth performance enhancement. SPPs teach athletes how to accept difficult emotions, formulate life values, and handle existential problems throughout their careers. SPP’s will also go beyond just the sport itself, and they look at the athlete as a whole person from a holistic approach. Diet, sleep, social support and family, school, and other areas of life can impact performance (Henriksen et al., 2019).

Most importantly, SPP’s may help athletes mindfully be engaged in their sport, which will increase enjoyment, even if the environment is high-pressure and competitive (Fry et al., 2020). The best thing about these strategies is that they are transferrable skills. Skills that will be beneficial for life-long learning and performance, even if the athlete does not have the opportunity for college athletics. There are so many obstacles that our youth athletes may face. Whether that is injury, conflict with teammates, negative thoughts, life after their athletic careers, or bad performances, and we owe it to them to teach them the skills to overcome these obstacles.

Sources:

Fry, M., Reid-Pinson, C., Iwasaki, S., & Thompson, J. (2020). Bridging Theory, Research, and Practice in Youth Sports: Sport Psychology’s Partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance to Enhance Youth Sport. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 11(1), 6–19.

Henriksen, K., Storm, L.K., Stambulova, N.B., Pyrdol, N., & Larsen, C.H. (2019). Successful and Less Successful Interventions With Youth and Senior Athletes: Insights From Expert Sport Psychology Practitioners. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology.

Merkel D. L. (2013). Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open access journal of sports medicine, 4, 151–160.

https://doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S33556

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Meet Neva: Cognitive Enhancement Specialist

Neva believes we all experience setbacks and challenges that we need to overcome in life, whether that’s in the athletic/performance realm or everyday life. And even if nothing is going “wrong”, there are skills that we may need to learn to optimize our well-being.

“I personally believe that every day I wake up, I should strive to be better. What can I do? What can I learn to be better? How can I invest in myself today? What skills can I put in my tool belt? What do I not know about myself that I need to know to be better?”

Neva is excited to bring individuals’ performance from level 5 to 10; she wants to take people to a new level of excellence that they have never experienced before. One of Neva’s many passions with mental performance is assisting patients in overcoming injuries, in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to: injury rehab, conditioning the mental state while enduring injuries, overcoming injuries to produce optimum performance, and coming back from high-stress injury environments with a clear mind.