Media Releases

Helping adolescent athletes cope with stress

September 20, 2016

Toron­to, ON – If your ado­les­cent ath­lete has a dif­fi­cult soc­cer game, do you tell them not to wor­ry about it? Or do you sug­gest they speak to their coach for tips on how to improve? How do you know if your words of wis­dom are help­ing or harm­ing?

Over the years these ques­tions have plagued many par­ents, but now researchers from U of T’s Fac­ul­ty of Kine­si­ol­o­gy and Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion are find­ing ways for par­ents to help their chil­dren cope with sport-relat­ed stress. Their find­ings were recent­ly pub­lished in the Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Sport Psy­chol­o­gy.

“We’ve found that the things par­ents say and do have an impact on the way ath­letes deal with stress in sport,” says assis­tant pro­fes­sor Kather­ine Tam­mi­nen, lead author of the study. “When par­ents talk direct­ly to their child about active cop­ing in sport, the ath­lete is more like­ly to use those strate­gies to deal with stress.”

When ath­letes use active cop­ing, includ­ing prac­tic­ing their sport skills or ask­ing a coach or team­mate for help, they’re more like­ly to enjoy their sport and improve their per­for­mance. These skills can also trans­late into future suc­cess – ado­les­cence is a key time when ath­letes are devel­op­ing cop­ing pat­terns and these tech­niques can reduce anx­i­ety when fac­ing stress in school and at work.

Being able to effec­tive­ly man­age stress depends on choos­ing the right strat­e­gy for the right sit­u­a­tion – some­times it’s best to put in extra effort to deal with a prob­lem, but in oth­er cas­es it can help to take a step back from a prob­lem. “It’s impor­tant for par­ents to help ath­letes find ways to devel­op their own solu­tions to solve their prob­lems rather than telling them what to do or that a prob­lem isn’t impor­tant.”

Dur­ing the study 85 pairs of ath­letes and par­ents com­plet­ed online sur­veys. Ath­letes report­ed lev­els of parental pres­sure or sup­port and how they coped with stress, and par­ents described the type of advice they had giv­en to their chil­dren about deal­ing with stress in sport.

Tamminen’s research has shown that the foun­da­tion to help­ing ath­letes devel­op cop­ing skills is for par­ents to estab­lish a pos­i­tive, sup­port­ive rela­tion­ship with their child. When young ath­letes feel pres­sure from their par­ents, they’re more like­ly to avoid dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions and not deal with the stress effec­tive­ly.

“If an ath­lete didn’t per­form well and their team lost, they prob­a­bly already feel pret­ty bad about it,” says Tam­mi­nen. “It’s impor­tant to give the ath­lete some time to think things through and allow them some con­trol over how and when they talk about their per­for­mance and to help them see things in a broad­er per­spec­tive.”

Under­grad­u­ate stu­dent Kristi Rise­ley, for­mer cap­tain of the Var­si­ty Blues women’s hock­ey team, agrees.

“At the begin­ning of my uni­ver­si­ty ath­let­ics career I want­ed more ice time, so I would vent to my par­ents. They encour­aged me to talk to my coach and told me to not be afraid to ask ques­tions and ask for feed­back. That was great advice because then I knew what I could do to improve.”

In the fall, Tam­mi­nen and her team are deliv­er­ing a cop­ing inter­ven­tion work­shop for par­ents and ath­letes to test the rec­om­men­da­tions they have devel­oped.

“We’re real­ly excit­ed to apply our research to real life sit­u­a­tions and give par­ents the skills they need to help their chil­dren,” says Tam­mi­nen. “Par­ents are such a strong influ­ence on young ath­letes and through our research we want to improve ath­letes’ expe­ri­ences and set them up for future suc­cess.”

Tamminen’s research is sup­port­ed by the Con­naught New Inves­ti­ga­tor Award.



Katie Bab­cock, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist
Fac­ul­ty of Kine­si­ol­o­gy and Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to