Let’s face it: being a student-athlete is no walk in the park. Between the pressures of keeping up with school assignments, homework and tests; meeting the grueling physical and mental demands of playing competitive sports; fulfilling family obligations; and maintaining a reasonably healthy social life, it’s no wonder so many young athletes feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
If you’ve chosen the path of competitive youth sports, the key to happiness – not to mention a sustainable athletic career – lies in your ability to juggle competing priorities and stay mentally and emotionally focused. So, how can you maintain an even keel despite a schedule that’s filled with commitments? Here are four powerful strategies you can use to get a handle on your priorities and minimize stress.
Plan ahead. Plan out your week or month ahead of time. Make a list of everything you need to get done and then prioritize the most important tasks, deadlines and commitments so you can tackle those first. Try working “backward” from your deadlines by penciling a due date into your schedule and then figuring out how much time each project will take so you can back-date the tasks leading up to the final product. Planning ahead will get you organized and help you anticipate possible scheduling conflicts so you can adjust while there’s still plenty of time.
Accept reality. To be successful and happy as a student-athlete, you have to accept that the path you’ve chosen is not for the faint of heart and learn to embrace the crazy ride you’ll be on for the next few years. A simple change of perspective – from resistance to acceptance – can free up much-needed mental and emotional energy to help you adapt to the inevitable ups and downs of life as an athlete. In other words: if you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude!
Practice self-care. You’ve probably heard this advice before: Don’t wait until you’re on the verge of burning out to take a break and recharge. The best time to start a self-care routine is now – when you’re feeling good and can focus on developing a new, positive habit. Choose an activity that recharges your batteries: whether it’s meditation, listening to music, or another favorite stress-buster, and set aside a regular time each week to indulge in a mental vacation.
Build a village. Social support is essential for relieving stress and staying sane amidst the pressures of student-athletic life. Having a group of trusted friends, teachers, coaches and parents to talk to when you need feedback or an outlet to vent can work wonders on your emotional state. Keeping your emotions bottled up is one of the least effective ways to feel better. Instead, share how you’re feeling with someone you trust – especially when you’re overwhelmed. You might be surprised that just the act of saying how you feel out loud can relieve a world of stress.
While the path of a student-athlete isn’t easy, with an intentional focus and a bit of planning it’s possible to not only manage stress but to thrive under pressure. Taking a proactive approach to stress management will bring amazing rewards in all areas of your life.
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Eva Bart-Williams is a mental performance coach with a private practice helping individuals and teams achieve big goals. Eva is also CBW Soccer Elite’s head of operations, where she helps athletes embrace the challenges of high-level competition and advises families on the college soccer recruitment process. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.