Helping Student Athletes Manage Emotions


By Nolan Miller, LSW – February 9, 2022 –

Many parents have been there. Your student athlete attended every practice and worked hard to improve their skills. Then when game time rolled around, they struggled to find success on the court or field. As a parent, this can be difficult to watch.

For students, defeat can cause strong emotions. Feelings of sadness or embarrassment can occur if they did not play well. Sometimes students feel angry and place blame on their teammates or the officials. From my experience in coaching, here are four ways to help your child cope with the challenge of managing emotions in sports.

  1. Focus on what they did well. Many times children and even adolescents struggle to understand that victory isn’t everything. In basketball, for example, helping their teammates do well, playing good defense, and being a positive team player is just as important as scoring points. Everyone on the team has their role, and if scoring is not their role it can be difficult for many students to enjoy the sport. Helping students focus on how they positively impacted the game can motivate them to keep doing their part to be a good teammate.
  1. Zap negative thought patterns. When it comes to sports, or even schoolwork, we might hear a student talk about how well they did when they succeeded. The same can also be said when they do poorly. When a student doesn’t do well on a test or doesn’t make a play correctly, they might say something like, “I’m not good at this,” or “Why am I so bad?” These thought patterns are going to set them up to fail the next time they try. Our children need our help to know that just because they fail once does not mean they will fail all the time.
  1. Support them even when they lose. When we’re headed home after a bad day, the last thing we want to hear is how we could have done something better. After a tough game or practice, children will look to their caregivers for love, not for their coaching advice. There is a time and place for that. Supporting them should always come first.
  1. Teach them that life is a marathon, not a sprint. We have all heard it before. We learn more when we lose than when we win. This is true in more than just sports. When we struggle we should look at it as a way to grow and not as a failure.

Not every child is going to become the next LeBron James or Tom Brady, but they can be the best version of themselves. Growth will come with a positive mindset. Teaching children to take it a day at a time can help them see gradual improvement in their skills and performance. Day one might not look much different than day five, but day one can look much different than day thirty.