By Jack Perconte, McClatchy-Tribune
One of the great things about youth sports is the opportunity for adults to teach life lessons that will be valuable long after their kids’ playing days end. One of these lessons is the ability to overcome fears that arise in the competitive world of athletics. The fear of injury is one of those fears.
It is important that coaches have patience with players who have a high degree of fear so they don’t create tension in their relationship with the player and/or make the situation worse. Saying things like “There’s nothing to be scared of” is not believable to these players. Additionally, saying things like “Don’t be a baby” are unacceptable and a source of tension between youth and adults. The best approach is to find ways for the fearful player to get over some of their fear. This is obviously easier said than done but coaches can try the following:
- Practice using safer methods. Examples of this would be using softer balls in sports that use a ball or by matching players up with lighter opponents in physical contact sports.
- Try not to make the player overly self-conscious of their fear by calling them out in front of others. Talk to them individually and explain that fear is common but that you believe they will overcome it.
- Set a goal for the player of when you hope they will overcome their fear. By giving the player some time it takes some of the pressure off of them and gives them the feeling that you understand that it is not easy for them.
- Teach players to concentrate “in the present” and not in the past. This is another thing that is easier said than done but coaches can help fearful players by asking them before plays what they expect to happen. Fearful players tend to think of what might happen as opposed to what is happening, so getting them to develop a “positive result” mindset is a big step in the right direction. Coaches may have to tell players what they should be thinking in situations at first until it becomes second nature for them to answer with this “here and now,” positive response. Here is an example of this in baseball. It is common for some players to be scared of getting hit by a pitched ball. Before throwing a batting practice pitch, the coach should ask the fearful batter where he expects the ball to be pitched. The response the coach wants to hear is “Right down the middle.” As mentioned, this puts a positive thought and expectation in the batter’s head as opposed to the thought that the ball may possibly come at them.
- It is a coach’s responsibility to teach all players methods of protecting themselves when danger can occur. For example, teaching kids in baseball how to get out of the way of inaccurate pitches, or in football how to tackle or take hits the correct way, can help kids overcome their fear of injury.
- Constant words of encouragement like “You can do it” and “I believe in you” are always good motivators. Avoiding looks of disgust and losing patience with players who are scared is never advised.
- Finally, for kids who cannot seem to get over this type fear, their parents should look for an alternative sport that players may enjoy. Forcing them to keep playing because it is the parent’s desire is not advised.
Jack Perconte played 12 years of professional baseball, including seven in the majors for the Dodgers, Indians, Mariners and White Sox, posting a career .270 average in the majors and a .311 mark in the minors. After retiring from professional baseball in 1987, Perconte opened a baseball training academy in Naperville, Ill. The hitting drills, mental training and coaching tips found in “The Making of a Hitter” (www.themakingofahitter.com) were culled from the 60,000 hitting lessons Perconte estimates he gave while operating the academy. He has also written “Raising an Athlete,” and writes for the blog http://positiveparentinginsports.com.